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Bullying prevention training expands

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Committee scheduled to begin training today at TCHS

By Kevin Koelling, Managing Editor

TELL CITY - Anti-bullying efforts already begun in other Tell City-Troy Township schools will take on an adult flavor when they get under way at Tell City High School as the next academic year unfolds.

"We want to try to make students understand that it's workplace-behavior development," Counselor Lisa Noble explained last week. "These kids are going to graduate and go on to college (and) to find a job. There are more-severe consequences as you get older if you are a bully. We have students who are 18; they are not considered juveniles any more."

As The News has reported previously, corporation-wide efforts were launched a year ago with a presentation by school-safety and bullying-prevention expert Michael Dorn. Staff-member training followed, leading to the launches of student-instruction efforts at William Tell Elementary and Tell City Junior High schools.

At the high-school level, anti-bullying training will add to resources students have to make responsible decisions, Noble noted. In addition to a need to develop skills necessary to navigate the adult world they'll soon join, the training will cover the extra privileges the older students already enjoy and the technologies they use.

"It's a challenge at this level because students have more freedom," she said. Many are driving and more of them go out to interact in unsupervised social situations, "so there are things that go on in the evenings or on weekends that come back here. Things unfold - arguments, fights, he-said-she-said situations - and a lot of times it's difficult to determine when or how it started."

The older students may be reluctant to talk to adults about their interpersonal issues, Noble continued, "and we're challenged with the cell phones, the texting, the Internet, the Facebook, the MySpace. It's becoming more difficult to monitor where these things are originating from."

"If it's an issue that's brought into the school, we have to make sure all those students are taken care of," added social worker Amy Hollinden.

The school system is adopting the research-based Olweus Bullying Prevention Program endorsed by Dorn, executive director of the nonprofit campus-safety organization, Safe Havens International. In a video-recorded testimonial at that organization's Web site, he called it "the finest and most effective bullying program in the world," adding, "it's an evidence-based program that has been around for a long time."

"I think this is a great program to give our teachers, and all of us, the tools to learn better how to help the victim, to support that person," Noble said, "and to give an education to the bully to try to make it work for everyone, to make it a safe place for kids to come so they don't feel like they're going to be victimized while they're here."

A core committee was scheduled to begin training today, Noble said, and further actions this semester will include publicity and the introduction of ideas and terminology to students.

The building's other teachers will undergo training their first day back after summer break, and will have help as junior-high students and teachers merge into the building's population.

"The seventh- and eighth-graders coming here will help us," Noble said. "We'll have staff members and students coming into this building who have been under this program for a year. I think that's going to help us to succeed even more because we'll have more training and more experience coming to help us."

"If they've started out at 12 years old, hopefully, they're learning those skills and the decrease in bullying has already started on those levels," Hollinden said. "We're hoping to see kind of a trickle-up effect."

"We realize it will take time," Noble added. "It's going to take years to see the effects coming from the junior high and the elementary."

As The News reported Sept. 24, Hollinden was one of five people hired under a Safe Schools-Healthy Students Grant worth $729,132 per year for four years and shared by Tell City and Perry Central school systems. Among other things, it was to fund adoption of the Olweus Program by Perry Central, which also had representatives at training Noble and Hollinden attended Jan. 21 and 22. Anti-bullying efforts thus far in the Tell City-Troy Township School Corp. have been funded by an anonymous donor.

Perry Central High School Principal Jackie Wright said Wednesday training in the Olweus system was under way for more staff members there and an initial planning meeting will occur next week.

Hollinden said a key component of the training is that every faculty member will respond the same way to bullying incidents. She pointed out that teachers have different personalities and exhibit different levels of strictness, and while she knows of no teacher who would tolerate bullying in their classroom, one might tell an offender to stop and another might take it a step further and take him or her to the office, she said. Once the program is in place, all adults, including janitorial and cafeteria workers, will intervene in the same way.

Additionally, "every student should know, if we do these things, these things are going to happen," she said.

Students "are going to have to be contributing members of society, and we want to give them ... the tools to be able to do that, to go out and make good choices." Noble said.