Featured Journal Article

Challenging bullying: Ohio educators and experts dicuss improving school climate

by Bryan Bullock, OSBA communication coordinator

Now, perhaps more than ever, bullying is a hot issue. The documentary film “Bully” and high-profile bullying incidents — like the 68-year-old New York bus monitor reduced to tears by middle school students — have generated news coverage and conversation across the country this year.

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But for all the well-publicized cases of bullying, there are many more that go unreported. Bullying happens at every school — and it often takes place behind teachers’ backs and under parents’ noses. It can be tough for adults to catch and hard for adolescents to discuss.

“Most bullying at school happens in the classroom and is undetected by teachers,” said Jim Bisenius, founder of Bully-Proofing Youth, which provides bullying prevention training to educators, students and parents.

Bullying can take many forms. While most people think of physical or verbal attacks, it also includes making threats, spreading rumors and purposefully excluding someone from a group.

“The sophisticated bullies know how to torment someone with a whisper or by looking over at their friends and mocking someone when the teacher isn’t looking,” said Bisenius, a Westerville resident who works with schools across Ohio and has spent 18 years combating bullying.

About 28% of students ages 12 through 18 said they were bullied at school during the 2008-09 school year, according to the most recent National Crime Victimization Survey. The survey found students who were bullied also were significantly more likely to be in a physical fight, live in fear of being attacked and bring a weapon to school.

Bisenius believes bullying is more of an issue now than it was generations ago in large part because of technology like cell phones, social media and the Internet.

“It used to be once a student made it home, they were in the clear,” he said. “But cyberbullying doesn’t give kids respite — it’s 24/7 and those issues can spill back over into school.”

Targeting bullying in school

Navigating cliques and social groups is hard enough for students, but bullying can make going to school unbearable.

Bullying makes victims feel alienated and overwhelmed. Not only is it damaging to their mental and emotional health, but studies show children and teens who are bullied are more likely to dislike school, distrust peers, struggle in class and act out with violence.

Bisenius estimates adults catch about one out of 10 acts of “blatant bullying.” When it comes to “sophisticated bullying,” he said the chances of an adult witnessing it fall to about one out of 50. His program (www.bullyproofingyouth.com) helps students stand up to bullies and also assists educators in their role of promoting a healthy school climate.

“One of the best ways staff can increase the odds of catching bullying is communication,” Bisenius said. “When a boy or girl comes to you and says this student is doing something they don’t like, chances are it is happening in other classes too.”

He said schools can also survey their students to gauge the school climate and find out who is being bullied and who is bullying others. Bisenius said teachers can use that information for classroom mapping.

“Normally, as adults, we have no clue who the bullies are,” he said. “Part of classroom mapping is to put more controlling kids toward the front so they can’t control kids behind them.”

The Olweus Bullying Prevention Program includes a student survey component, as well as an effort to find “hot spots” in school where bullying happens. The data serves as a benchmark to gauge efforts to fight bullying. Olweus (pronounced Ol-VEY-us) is a comprehensive, schoolwide program designed to prevent bullying and improve peer relations. The evidence-based international program
(www.violencepreventionworks.org) is used by a variety of schools in Ohio.

Stark County ESC is supporting an effort to implement the Olweus program in schools in Columbiana, Stark and Summit counties. Kay Port, director of Stark County ESC’s CARE Team Initiative, said 19 people from Stark County, including herself, have been provisionally certified by Clemson University as Olweus trainers. A Sisters of Charity Foundation grant funded most of the training. The Olweus program is aligned with and supports the Ohio Improvement Process (OIP) climate goal.

“Between May of this year and September, we are going to train 18 schools in Stark County on the Olweus program,” Port said. “Some are public, some are parochial.”

She said the program includes a comprehensive approach to strengthening school climate, including a consistent set of rules and reporting policies for a district to follow. Port said Olweus also puts an emphasis on the role of school staff, parents and the community in addressing bullying.

“One of the strongest pieces of this program is that it addresses the bystanders, the kids who watch, laugh or do nothing,” Port said. “If we can empower the kids who see bullying to report it to an adult, that will have a huge impact on the emotional well-being of our students.”

Dispelling myths about bullying

As is often the case, the first part of addressing any problem is recognizing there is one.

It’s important to understand what is bullying and what isn’t, said Todd Walts, president and chief executive officer of Campus Impact, which provides bullying prevention training to educators, students and parents.

“Unlike an isolated student conflict, bullying is continuous, aggressive behavior that has to do with an imbalance of power,” Walts said. “That power imbalance might be physical size or perceived popularity.”

An Amherst resident and former youth pastor, Walts has worked with a variety of Ohio schools over the past 10 years. Campus Impact (www.campusimpactusa.org) produces bullying prevention instructional materials used by schools nationwide.

“I think bullying is recognized more now than it used to be,” he said. “People used to think, and some people still do, that it is something a kid will grow out of or it’s just kids being kids, but that’s simply not true.”

Walts said research shows that, without intervention,
students who bully others are likely to continue their aggressive behavior as they advance in school and move into adulthood.

“Bullying becomes more evident in sixth through eighth grade, but it does exist in the elementary school too,” he said. “We know, statistically, that once students reach eighth grade, they stop reporting the issues because it becomes very uncool.”

Walts said schools have to work with parents, businesses and the community to address bullying.

“A lot of times people just focus on the school, but it takes a broader partnership to make progress in bullying prevention,” he said.

Students confront bullying

Amherst EV has a number of initiatives in place to raise awareness about bullying, but it was a student project that brought the issue to the forefront of the school community last school year.

A handful of Steele High School students went on camera and intimately discussed the cruel, inconsiderate things bullies have said and done to them. Their responses were shown to the entire school as part of an 18-minute television news broadcast created by students on the topic of bullying.

“You could really hear a pin drop when this video went on,” said high school Principal Mike Gillam. “The video was very real — it wasn’t meant to pull punches. It took a lot of courage for these kids to come forward and be a part of it.”

The video, a special report created by students in TV Class, was later shown on local public television and posted online, where Gillam said it has been viewed about 17,000 times. It is available at http://links.ohioschoolboards.org/23972.

The news broadcast, he said, made a lasting impact on school climate.

“It was received extremely well,” Gillam said. “The fact that students took what it had to say so seriously really reflects well on our students.”

He said the school plans to use the video as a part of bullying awareness efforts in the future. Other districts, Gillam said, have called and asked to use it as well. The special report received a Student Emmy Award from the National Academy of Television Arts and Science Lower Great Lakes Chapter.

“I know bullying is the word right now, but I tend to think it is more of an issue of intolerance,” he said. “As staff and students, we want to try to model diversity and embrace it as much as possible.” n 

Editor’s note: The commercial anti-bullying programs mentioned in this article are only a few of such programs available for school districts to choose from. Their appearance in the Journal does not constitute an endorsement by OSBA.

District perspective: Valley View Local (Montgomery)

In Valley View Local, fourth-graders are introduced to Project Charlie (CHemical Abuse Resolution Lies in Education). While the national program began as an anti-drug effort, it has emerged as a vehicle to address bullying. Standout Valley View High School students are selected and trained by teacher advisor Shannon Longman to provide instruction to younger students. They teach 30-minute lessons that focus on good decision making, making friends and avoiding drugs.

At Valley View Junior High School, peer mediators work with guidance counselor Stephanie Carmack in groups to discuss problems with other students who sign up to “talk.” Students who bare their problems to peers tend to find new solutions and often find friends. The district’s junior high and high school both have a section in their health classes focusing on bullying and how to recognize and stop it. The junior high school also plans to bring back Rachel’s Challenge, a national program designed to help students combat bullying, increase respect and improve school climate.

Source: Submitted by Debbie Bruner, Valley View Local communications director

District perspective: Orange City

At Orange City’s Moreland Hills Elementary School, every student is required to review a “No Bullying Allowed” policy and sign an agreement of understanding. The school also has a program to help new students fit in and a peer mediation program. During recess, student mediators wear bright orange vests to identify themselves as students assigned to assist with conflicts that day.

Bradley Middle School students have participated in Challenge Day, a national program intended to help kids gain a greater awareness and appreciation of each other’s differences and abilities. Adult facilitators led students in getting-to-know-you games and thought-provoking discussions.

Orange High School social studies teacher Gail Price helps students confront bullying in her program Facing History and Ourselves. One school year, the senior class set up a flash mob dance to show students the horrors of bullying. The students also did a project exploring and mapping bullying “hot spots” in the school. They later posted signs in those areas and worked to monitor them for possible bullying. Finally, they took their efforts to the elementary school to work with students on anti-bullying programs. A national film crew shot a documentary exploring the school’s anti-bullying programs and efforts.

Source: Submitted by Staci A. Vincent, Orange City communications assistant

More district perspectives

Groveport Madison Local (Franklin)

Groveport Madison Local began using a new tool to combat bullying last school year. Students disciplined for bullying offenses can be required to attend a bullying workshop. Suspended students can reduce the length of their suspension by attending the workshop with their parents.

Students and parents meet in three-hour sessions for three Saturdays to learn how their behavior impacts others and the consequences of bullying. Moderators help students deal with their feelings and teach them how to resolve conflicts. The Educational Council, a consortium of Franklin County schools, developed the workshop after being approached by Groveport Madison Local.

Source: The Columbus Dispatch

Southeastern Local (Clark)

A school project created by two Southeastern Local students to raise awareness about bullying made a big impact on their peers — and now it’s receiving national attention. Southeastern High School senior Tyler Gregory and junior Scott Hannah created a powerful five-minute video featuring statistics about bullying and students holding signs explaining how bullying impacts them.

The students entered the video in the National Great American NO BULL Challenge, a contest to empower teens to create anti-bullying messages. More than 200 videos from across the nation were submitted for the competition and voted for on online. Gregory and Hannah were selected among 15 finalists and invited to San Francisco for a live awards ceremony. To view their video, visit http://links.ohioschoolboards.org/77171.

Source: Springfield News-Sun

Cincinnati City

More than 8,500 Cincinnati City students were bused to movie theaters in the spring to see the movie “Bully.” The showings were part of a nationwide initiative called “The Bully Project: 1 Million Kids,” which provides schools with free access to the movie. The project is designed to increase awareness of bullying and prevention efforts.

The movie, which focuses on the impact bullying has on children and families, has received national attention. Cincinnati students in grades eight through 11 watched “Bully.”

Source: The Associated Press

Buckeye Valley Local (Delaware)

A Buckeye Valley Local student group was recognized by the Ohio Department of Education last year with an Asset Builder Award
for its efforts to combat bullying. Buckeye Valley High School
junior Abbey Fields helped create Thanks Goodness I’m Female (TGIF).

Fields wrote and secured a grant that trained high school students to lead self-esteem building meetings with small groups of middle school girls. The TGIF meetings focus on improving relationships and promoting strategies to reduce bullying through discussion and interactive activities.

Source: The Delaware Gazette