EDUCATION

Teachers learn fine points of bullying prevention program

PAT FRIDGEN
Staff from Greencastle-Antrim Middle School participated in role playing and discussed a Power Point presentation during training for the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program. Pictured from left are: Kevin Rice, Melissa Shuey, Megan Barkdoll, Barb Grane, Dena Wingerd, Terri Young, Kelly Seylor, parent Kim Siner and Lisa Collins.

Step two of an anti-bullying program in the Greencastle-Antrim School District took place this summer. All teachers attended one of three workshops to become familiar with tactics to identify and handle bullying incidents in the schools  come fall.

The district has adopted a program called HALT, funded by the Highmark Foundation. Coordinating committees in the primary, elementary, middle and high schools were introduced to the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program last spring, and in turn presented the strategies to the the rest of the faculty. Additionally, all other district employees are receiving training, from bus drivers to instructional aides. The third phase will be opening day for the 2010-2011 school year, when students are finally acquainted with guidelines for behavior.

Times have changed

While bullying has always been a part of daily interactions among children in school, incidents have become significant enough across the country that educators are taking notice and fighting the ramifications.

Megan Barkdoll, 26, who has taught wellness at Greencastle-Antrim Middle School for three years, has seen a difference even since she passed through the school system.

“What caught me off guard were all the forms of bullying occurring,” she said. “It’s advanced from when I was here.”

Because of technology, students not only tease or exclude others or become physically aggressive. They have branched out to bully on the Internet and through cell phone texting.

Barkdoll, as the middle school chairman, believes the new program is right for the adolescents in her building.

“The kids are developing empathy, especially at this age,” she said. “They are starting to be aware of other’s feelings.”

The purpose of the Olweus plan is to change the environment within the schools, she said. They want to create a supportive community, which will also include the homes.

“Bullying doesn’t happen just in school,” Barkdoll said. Parents will be included in the loop on how to respond appropriately.

Barkdoll’s experience observing bullying behavior varies somewhat from an academic classroom, as she works with students in the gym and outdoors for the physical education  component of her curriculum. Since students have different abilities, the best athletes sometimes fuss about those who aren’t as competitive, she said. Their egos get in the way.

Strategies

Director of Education Bob Crider reported in May that the  school had devised a tracking system to identify students who acted as bullies, as well as immediate and consistent consequences. Through a student survey, the hot spots where bullying usually took place were pinpointed as the cafeterias, locker rooms, bathrooms and hallways.

The committees in each building therefore are designing ways to minimize opportunities to bully at those locations. Barkdoll said teachers would be more visible as students moved through the corridors, and corner mirrors would be installed in the locker rooms.

A goal of the prevention program is also to give students the tools to intervene if they see someone being picked on.

“If they are not directly involved, but are a witness, we want them to be able to step in and help the victim,” she said.