Washington County schools install anti-bullying policy

August 31, 2011|By MARIE GILBERT |
  • Dr. Steve Burnett, Washington County Public Schools supervisor of school counseling, center, said Olweus Bullying Prevention Program, which WCPS has adopted, is "the gold standard" among programs of its type. Julie Matheny, left, and Shelly Telemeco are certified trainers of the program.
By Joe Crocetta/Staff Photographer

Most schools have them — the kids who push and shove in the hallway and ridicule classmates in the cafeteria or gym.

But it’s not just the hulking athlete who tosses the bookworm into the shower stall.

It’s the girl who has the latest jeans and membership to a tanning salon.

It’s the boy with a new car and tickets to the sold-out rock concert.

Some bullies seem to have it all.

But they can make life so miserable for targeted students that their threats and harassment can scar others for life.

Schools in Washington County are not immune to the issue of bullying.

Bullying was responsible for 218 discipline referrals for 2010-2011, according to Dr. Steve Burnett, Washington County Public Schools supervisor of school counseling.

Because bullying exists, a 46-member cross-functional team was convened several years ago to review all evidence-based anti-bullying programs, he said.

The team chose the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program.

The comprehensive program has required a lot of training and school planning, Burnett said, “so it has been on a three-year rollout plan. The remaining schools were trained this past summer.”

“This is the most researched — over 35 years — anti-bullying program and is considered the gold standard for bully prevention,” Burnett noted.

The program was adopted by the Washington County Board of Education as a component of the curriculum for all students in kindergarten through eighth grade, he said. The two certified trainers of the program are Julie Matheny and Shelly Telemeco.

“Over the past three years, schools have developed bully prevention coordinating committees and have undergone extensive training to learn aspects of the program and develop strategic plans for individual school implementation,” Burnett said. “In addition, food service staff and bus drivers were provided training regarding the program.”

Burnett said the Olweus anti-bullying program is used at the school, classroom and individual levels and includes methods to reach out to parents and the community for involvement and support.

School administrators, teachers and other staff are primarily responsible for introducing and implementing the program with the goals of improving peer relations and making the school a safer and more positive place for students to learn and develop, he said.

Burnett said the goals of the program are threefold: reduce existing bullying problems among students; prevent the development of new bullying problems; and achieve better peer relations at school.

“The Olweus program is not a classroom curriculum,” he said. “It is a whole-school, systems-change program at four different levels — schoolwide, classroom, individual and community.”

Checking the results

According to Burnett, the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program has been more thoroughly evaluated than any other bullying prevention/reduction program so far. Six large-scale evaluations involving more than 40,000 students produced the following documented results:

  • Average reductions of 20 percent to 70 percent in student reports of being bullied and bullying others. Peer and teacher ratings of bullying problems have yielded roughly similar results.
  •  Marked reductions in student reports of general antisocial behavior, such as vandalism, fighting, theft and truancy.
  • Clear improvements in the classroom social climate, as reflected in students’ reports of improved order and discipline, more positive social relationships and more positive attitudes toward schoolwork and school.

For students in grades four through seven, most of these positive results can be seen after only eight months of intervention work, given reasonably good implementation of the program, Burnett noted. For students in grades eight through 10, it might take somewhat more time — maybe two years — to achieve equally good results.

Burnett said the anti-bullying program is designed for students in elementary and middle schools. All students participate in most aspects of the program, while students identified as bullying others or as targets of bullying, receive additional individualized interventions.

“We are measuring the success of the program by conducting systemwide surveys to all students participating in the program,” Burnett said. “We obtained baseline data this past May for first-year implementing schools and the data was compared to national level.  Specifically, boys and girls nationally report being bullied 16.4 percent of the time as compared to our Washington County Public Schools data of 16.3 percent.”

Types of bullying

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

  •  Verbal bullying
  •  Social exclusion or isolation
  •  Physical bullying
  •  Bullying through lies and false rumors
  •  Having money or other things taken or damaged
  •  Threats or being forced to do things
  •  Racial bullying
  •  Sexual bullying
  •  Cyber bullying

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