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Dealing with bullying

April 25, 2003

How do schools get bullies to stop picking on the other children in their classes? By making their grades dependent on how well they get along with other students.

So says Guy Vitaglione, a psychology professor at West Virginia University. His suggestion is one that the school system should take a close look at.

The program is called the Jigsaw Classroom and Vitaglione says it has been used in Texas schools since the 1960s. He said studies show that it improves students' ability to learn, especially minority and low-income students.

In the program, teachers divide students into work groups that include those of different races, educational abilities and income levels. Each student takes charge of a different piece of the lesson. Then all gather to exchange information.

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Unless students work together, they don't succeed. And as they do that, Vitaglione said, they realize that being helpful and cooperative makes sense.

On first look, the program shows promise for two reasons. As Vitaglione told the Associated Press, there's no agenda, no specific curriculum of tolerance of the kind which led a Christian group to charge that a state-promoted anti-bullying effort was encouraging tolerance for homosexuality.

In Jigsaw, the students don't talk about themselves, but about how they can work together as a group to succeed.

It's a good life lesson, too. When students get into the work force, they'll find themselves working with people of different races, beliefs and income levels. Since research shows that what students learn early sticks with them, what better time to learn it than while they're young?

The 1999 shootings at Columbine High School underscored for the nation the need to prevent bullying, because it could trigger a spree of revenge.

In January, the West Virginia Attorney General's Office withdrew its own anti-bullying program from the schools. If the Jigsaw Classroom offers a better answer to this problem, then the school system should embrace it.

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