School district seeks to reduce bullying behavior

PAT FRIDGEN

The younger students in the Greencastle-Antrim School District are bullied, and are bullies themselves, at a higher rate than the national average. The findings from a 2009 self-reporting survey indicate a Pennsylvania mandate for schools to establish bullying programs came at an opportune time.

"We knew we had issues and were concerned," said director of education Bob Crider. "We wanted to identify them and be proactive."

G-ASD is adopting a bullying prevention program called HALT, funded by Highmark Healthy High 5, an initiative of the Highmark Foundation. Training has begun and the program will be implemented at the start of the 2010-2011 school year in each of the campus buildings.

"We want to change the culture so bullying isn't tolerated," Crider added. "It never was, but we want everyone, employees and students, on the same page."

Often bystanders to a bullying event want to help but don't know what to do. The program will provide tools for the students to respond in an appropriate way if they witness the abuse, Crider said.

Already members of coordinating committees have been trained in each of the four schools. Teachers will complete training at workshops over the summer. The district will present the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program for students in grades K-12, created in Norway by Dr. Dan Olweus, a research professor of psychology. A need for his program was prompted in 1983 when three adolescent boys in his country died by suicide, likely the consequence of severe bullying by peers. The program incorporates involvement by individuals, classrooms, schools and the community.

Instances of bullying

Findings of the local 2009 survey indicate that 30 percent of elementary students have been bullied two or three times or more per month, a standard of measure. That was 10 percent higher than the national average.

Nineteen percent of G-A middle school students said they were bullied, five percent more than the national norm. At the high school level, 13 percent of students were bullied, equal to the national rate.

G-ASD students are also bullies. Survey data revealed that eight percent of elementary students admitted they bullied other children, two percent higher than the national average.

In the middle school the rate was 12 percent, again two percent higher than average. At the high school, the 12 percent rate of students bullying peers equals the national rate.

Bullying has been defined as a form of aggression intended to harm or cause distress in another. It is a repeated behavior with an imbalance of power among the parties.

Crider said G-A students experience bullying most often through verbal or cyber abuse, rumors or exclusion. Other forms include physical, racial or sexual.

Ready for fall

Crider does not expect the prevalence of bullying to increase once the anti-bullying agenda is in place. Rather, he predicted reporting would go up.

Through the advance preparation, the school staff devised a tracking system to determine who participates in any bullying behavior and the consequences have been established. He is optimistic the results will be successful. Highmark reported at the end of 2009 that schools which utilized the Olweus program saw a 14 percent drop in bullying in elementary schools and a 25 percent drop in high schools after just three months. After six months, 14 percent of middle school students said they would try to help a student being bullied. Some schools have seen a 50 percent reduction in incidents.

The atmosphere in the schools should benefit.

"If kids don't feel safe they don't learn well," Crider concluded. "We are aware of that, and now with more education we know how to handle it appropriately."