Finding a solution to bullying a top priority in Washington County schools

March 10, 2008|By ERIN CUNNINGHAM

WASHINGTON COUNTY - Washington County Public Schools officials say they are aware that bullying takes place in schools, and they are taking steps to address it.

"It's taken seriously," said Williamsport High School Principal Henry Bohlander.

The school system is taking proactive steps to address it through programs, interventions and presentations, said Acting Supervisor of School Counselors Cheryl Mitchell-Jones. If students bully, harass or intimidate other students, there are consequences that can include expulsion.

Mitchell-Jones said her top priority since joining the school system three years ago has been to prevent bullying.

The solution might be awareness, she said. Many of the school system's programs are aimed at making students aware of what bullying is and what the consequences of that behavior will be.

Elementary schools

Mitchell-Jones said preventing bullying starts with defining bullying for students.

The school system defines bullying as "intentional negative actions on the part of one or more students, repeatedly and over time, that interfere with a student's ability to participate in or benefit from the school's education programs."


"Then let them know there is something they can do if they're being bullied," Mitchell-Jones said. "And there are consequences for bullying."

Part of educating students is letting them know what good behavior is expected of them, she said.

All Washington County elementary schools participate in the PEACE - Providing Everyone Acceptance and Cooperation Everywhere - initiative, Mitchell-Jones said.

Under the program, which has been in place since 2005, students learn how to "keep the peace," and pledge to become peacemakers, she said.

Middle schools

Some Washington County middle schools, including Northern Middle, have the ESPI program, which stands for Empowering Students Peace Initiative.

This program includes classroom lessons, an essay contest, a poster contest, schoolwide activities, a student support group and messages on the morning announcements.

Springfield Middle School Principal Jenny Ruppenthal said her students participate in PBIS, which stands for Positive Behavioral Interventions and Support. She said the school chose three themes on which to focus: respect, response and resolution.

Thirteen Washington County elementary and middle schools have PBIS in place, said Student Services Director John Davidson.

"PBIS is a national incentive program that focuses on positive behaviors instead of punishment," said Springfield Middle School Counselor Julie Van Metre.

Students at Springfield are given "Cougar Cash" as a reward for good behavior, she said.

Ruppenthal said students can use the coupons to buy things at the school store.

"We give it to them when we catch them being good," she said.

Bus drivers also have been given Cougar Cash to pass out to students on the bus rides to and from school. Ruppenthal said bus rides and other unstructured times give students a chance to exhibit bad behavior.

Staff members at Springfield Elementary School recently talked to students about how to behave on school buses.

"Students have to know the expectations and you have to reinforce it," she said.

At Springfield Middle, staff tries to focus on building relationships with students. This lets students know they have someone to talk to if they are being bullied or if they are the bully.

Another program, Where Everybody Belongs, is one of two similar initiatives to help younger students transition into middle school in the sixth grade. The program is in all of the county's middle schools.

That program matches younger students with eighth-graders, linking them with students who act as mentors.

High schools

A similar program, The Link Crew, is in place at county high schools. Under that program, a group of older students greets incoming freshmen with information and insights into high school life, academics, activities and issues. Officials said such programs give students a model for good behavior, as well as someone to whom they can talk, should bullying become a problem.

Randy Longnecker, a school counselor at Williamsport High School, said the school has some posters up that help educate students about good behavior.

"No one has the right to interfere with another student's right to learn," he said. "We leave it there. There's no bending on that issue."

He said group counseling and anger management also help deter bullying at school. Peer mediation is another option, Longnecker said.

"A lot of kids are angry," he said.

All schools have in place student support teams that perform student interventions when necessary, Davidson said.

These teams encourage staff participation, educate staff and students, create awareness, provide interventions and maintain a school culture in which bullying is unacceptable.

Other stories in this series:

Dealing with the threat of bullies - the cyber factor (March 10, 2008)

Bullying a national problem (March 9, 2008)

The impact of bullying can last a lifetime (March 9, 2008)

Tips for spotting a bully (March 9, 2008)

Tips to prevent cyberbullying (March 10, 2008)

Bills in Annapolis that address bullying (March 10, 2008)

Washington County school system tackles issue of bullying (March 10, 2008)

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