Program to combat bullying planned for Washington County schools

April 25, 2010|By DAN DEARTH
  • Springfield Middle School science teacher Deb Remeikas, left, and guidance counselor Anna Lofton are part of the No Bullying Allowed (NBA) program.
By Colleen McGrath/Staff Photographer,

WASHINGTON COUNTY -- Washington County Public Schools officials plan next year to implement an anti-bullying campaign designed to help create a safer, more secure environment in which students can learn.

The Olweus Bullying Prevention Program will be implemented at the start of the 2010-11 academic year in elementary and middle schools across the county, according to John Davidson, director of student services for Washington County Public Schools.

Officials hope the program will decrease bullying incidents by teaching students, staff and faculty how to recognize a problem and act accordingly, Davidson said. The program also will attempt to involve parents, he said.

Twenty-three cases of bullying were reported in Washington County Public Schools during the 2006-07 school year, Davidson said. That number increased to 55 in 2007-08, and to 72 in 2008-09.

"We've seen a decline in behavior," Davidson said. "It's one of those things we have to address as educators."


In July 2009, the Washington County Board of Education approved spending $76,000 for the Olweus program. That money is being used primarily to train teachers and to purchase materials.

Steve Burnett, supervisor of school counseling for Washington County Public Schools, said Olweus is a proven system that helps increase awareness about bullying. In some cases, the program has decreased bullying incidents by 50 percent, he said.

The changes don't come overnight.

Burnett said the 50 percent reduction rate usually takes two to three years to achieve after the program's inception.

There are educational advantages to reducing the incidents of bullying.

Oral and physical bullying can lead to stress that causes the victim's attention to taper off in the classroom. In addition, children who are bullied tend to dislike school and become afraid to attend.

"If kids are worried about what will happen after that class is over, it will impact their ability to learn," Burnett said. "We need to have a safe environment for kids to learn ... We need to take it seriously."

Anna Lofton, a guidance counselor at Springfield Middle School in Williamsport, said she receives complaints about bullying.

Boys tend to engage in physical forms of bullying, while girls are inclined to start rumors and isolate others from a group, she said.

"One day they'll (girls) be nice to you, and the next day they won't talk to you," Lofton said.

A survey taken earlier this year at Springfield Middle School showed 73 percent of boys and 84 percent of girls felt sorry for classmates who were bullied and wanted to help, she said.

No-bullying zone

Lofton said the students at Springfield Middle School already have become involved by adopting a No Bullying Allowed Zone. To help the enterprise succeed, students have agreed to not bully others and to help those who are victimized.

Lofton said the students also agreed to include students who are left out, and to inform an adult at school and at home when they know a bullying incident has occurred.

She said officials want to involve parents and convince children that it's OK to talk about what's going on.

"Kids don't speak up," Lofton said. "They are afraid to tell and they are afraid of being called a snitch."

Deb Remeikas, a seventh-grade science teacher at Springfield Middle School, said the existing system to curb bullying doesn't go far enough.

Under the current program, reports have to be filed to initiate an investigation. Remeikas said there is no requirement that an offending student be punished.

"Students who are bullying aren't recognizing they're bullying and aren't learning to change their ways," she said.

The Olweus system will train students, faculty and staff how to recognize and handle bullying. She said school system officials want to train everyone from bus drivers to parents in bullying prevention.

"We will be role playing among faculty when they're learning and students when they're learning," Remeikas said.

She said program directors hope to increase enthusiasm for the program by offering students incentives, such as gift cards and book bags.

They also want local businesses to get involved.

Remeikas said Graphic Response Inc., a marketing and graphic design firm in Williamsport, already has stepped on board by designing and donating the No Bullying Allowed Zone logo.

The program at Springfield Middle School will be taught by two faculty members, who are in the process of being trained, Remeikas said. The 30-minute class will be taught to students once a week.

"We would like the kickoff to be the first day of school," she said. "We really want the kids to know this is our program. These are our rules."

Types of bullying

Following are types of bullying, as identified by the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program:

o Verbal bullying

o Social exclusion or isolation

o Physical bullying

o Bullying through lies and false rumors

o Having money or other things taken or damaged

o Threats or being forced to do things

o Racial bullying

o Sexual bullying

o Cyberbullying (via cell phone or the Internet)

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