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School takes aim at bullying

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Community can help, may benefit from lessons learned at Tell City Junior High School

By Kevin Koelling, Managing Editor

Anyone who's seen bullying in action, whether as the victim or as a witness, feels the pain, Tell City Junior High School Counselor Cindia Ress said Monday. Efforts this year to end that pain culminated in a Friday-afternoon assembly, photo session and mini-carnival.

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Anti-bullying efforts for students at William Tell Elementary School were launched with a school-wide assembly Aug. 12, two days after the start of the new academic year. Teachers and other staff members underwent training in March. Staffers at Tell City High School will undergo training in the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program in time for a fall expansion into that building.

Planning by the junior-high staff led to the assignment this year of each student to a "house" where they learn to respect each other as if they were families, the counselor explained. Teachers like the concept because they got to know their students as individuals before getting to know them academically, she added. "The better you know them, the better you can meet their needs" she said. "And when kids get to know each other as individuals, and learn to respect each other's differences, they're less likely to bully. We're trying to promote a culture of togetherness, being respectful and involved." Involvement can be in any positive community activity such as Scouting, sports or "helping the person down the street," she continued. "We want to ingrain these habits so students can give back to the community."

Points are awarded for positive behavior and subtracted for negative actions, serving to motivate individuals and members of their houses.

"That puts the power of the group toward making good choices," said Ress, who encourages community members to help by notifying the school of incidents they see.

Positive reinforcement is already paying off. One student noticed another, burdened down with books, was going to have trouble exiting the building, Ress said, and stopped to help him with the door. "I gave him a positive write-up on a referral form," Ress said. "Our cafeteria workers say they've never heard so many pleases and thank-yous."

Bullying can be a powerful force in a youngster's life, and the Olweus Program provides powerful messages about it. Ress said after much debate, the junior-high students were shown a video about a boy who committed suicide as a result of cyber-bullying, to convey just how serious the issue is.

All of the adults working for the school have been trained and "we changed the way we supervise," Ress said. "We know where the hot spots (where bullying is more likely to occur) are, such as the restrooms, locker areas and stairwells. We moved the sixth-grade lockers from an unsupervised area." Even the way students exit classrooms has been changed to eliminate conflicting traffic patterns, she added.

The new culture involves daily activities wrapped up each Friday with discussions about what the students have learned over the week. The Olweus Program, house system and support of positive behavior all add up, Ress said.

It's too early to get a true measure of success, but so far, it appears Tell City Junior High School is "a better, kinder, safer and better-supervised place," she said. If all goes according to plan, those results will expand into the community.

"If you feel better about yourself, you learn better, and the possibilities are endless," she said.