Ask any group of school-aged kids what their major stressors are and you can bet at least one will say a bully.
Bullying takes many forms and, with the advancement of technology, has unfortunately expanded beyond the playground. The term refers to any physical or verbal harassment of one person by another, whether it’s in person, in writing or in cyberspace.
In order to address this problem, the Liverpool Central School District is piloting a new anti-bullying program at Willow Field Elementary. The Olweus Bullying Prevention Program addresses bullying in school and in the community as a whole. The program has been implemented in at least a dozen countries worldwide and gives students a consistent message that bullying others is not acceptable. It also trains teachers to identify, respond to and safeguard against bullying.
“We started looking at this last year, this notion of bullying,” said WFE Principal Henry “Chick” Quattrini. “The impetus came from a parent whose child, in her words, was being bullied. So we pursued some research to see what was out there.”
In the course of their research, WFE staffers found one aspect was key to initiate a change and bring an end to bullying: consistency. The program that offered that as well as a doable program that could be built from the ground up was the Olweus program.
Developed by Norwegian psychologist Dan Olweus, the program was developed after the suicide of three boys in Norway after they were bullied by their peers. In order to prevent a similar scenario from recurring, Olweus created a program that sought to change the culture in which bullies were developing. In order to make that change, it was necessary to put together an initiative that operated on the school level (adopting a system of rules and adhering to them strictly, developing consequences for violation of the rules and involving parents in the entire process), the classroom level (regular meetings in the classroom to increase knowledge of bullying and empathy between students) and the individual level (one-on-one intervention with bullies, their victims and the parents of all students involved).
Olweus targets children ages 6 to 15 in elementary, middle and junior high school. It’s directed at improving peer relations and includes all students in a school with special additional individual attention for those students identified as bullies or victims of bullies.
The program extends beyond school walls, as well. Olweus calls for meetings between school personnel, students and the community at large in order to incorporate those same anti-bullying messages and strategies into community activities for youth.
According to its web site, the Olweus program has proven to be effective, boasting an impressive 30 to 70 percent reduction in student reports of being bullied, significant reductions in reports of antisocial behavior in students and improvements in general classroom order and discipline. Students also reported a more positive attitude toward school after the Olweus program had been implemented in their classrooms.
In fact, the program is so effective that it was chosen as one of 10 “model programs” to be used in nationwide violence prevention initiatives. It was one of 500 under consideration.
Implementation at WFE
All of these factors contributed to Willow Field’s decision to implement the program. Next, they just had to learn how to do it.
Fortunately, they had help.
“It so happened that our local BOCES had had a couple of staff development sessions to train in this model,” Quattrini said. “We talked to our PTO, and they were very willing to support the training and the purchase of the materials and the questionnaire [that is administered to students before program implementation to gather data on bullying and perceptions of bullying].”
Quattrini then discussed the program with the district, which decided it could pay the initial fees and allow WFE to pilot the program.
“They decided we should pilot it and see what it does and see if we should look at applying it more broadly,” Quattrini said.
So the school ordered the materials and developed a 15-person steering committee made up of people from all walks of Willow Field life — parents, teachers, teachers’ aides, bus drivers and kitchen staff. The committee went for a two-day training session at BOCES to learn the program basics and how to train other adults in the school community. On March 25, all adults in the building will be trained at WFE by members of the steering committee.
The next step involved getting information from the kids. The school distributed a questionnaire to all students in grades three through six, a standardized, validated, multiple-choice, anonymous survey designed to measure a number of aspects of bullying problems in schools. The questionnaire will be readministered every year. The data from the schools will be analyzed and used to develop a consistent message and schedule to discuss bullying with students.
“Our goal is to have a plan in place by September of 2008,” Quattrini said. “By then we’ll all be trained and we’ll have developed consistent ways of intervening and recording data.”
Though it hasn’t yet been implemented at Willow Field, Quattrini said he’s already received some unsolicited feedback on the program.
“We’ve had two situations where we’ve heard outstanding things about it,” Quattrini said. “It seems to make a lot of sense. We’re trying to make more of a cultural shift, and this is a great way to do that and to solve this problem.”
Sarah Hall is the editor of the Eagle Star-Review and the Baldwinsville Messenger. The 2012 winner of the Syracuse Press Club's Selwyn Kershaw Professional Standards Award, she has been with Eagle Newspapers since 2006. She is a Liverpool native.