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Cedar Forest and Riverview elementary schools implement proactive anti-bullying program.
Cedar Forest Elementary's proactive effort against bullying includes flying banners for days without reports of problems at school or on buses.
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"I wouldn't laugh," one girl said. "I would just say: Please stop. That's not nice."
"Is it OK to stand up to somebody and tell them, what you just said is wrong?" Hall asked.
"Yes," the students answered in unison.
Peers often carry more weight with a bully than a teacher or another adult, Hall told the third-graders.
"Sometimes, teachers can tell them you shouldn't do that, you shouldn't say that and teachers repeat themselves over and over again," she said. "But when you guys as the bystander stand up and tell someone who's bullying that is wrong, they're going to stop and listen because then you've just taken their power away."
A CLIMATE FOR LEARNING
With all of the pressure teachers are under for students to achieve, using a half hour of every week for anti-bullying instruction could have been met with resistance. But by taking time to get staff on board before implementing the program, Strawn said everyone is seeing benefits.
"Teachers will tell you their classes are more united so they're actually getting that instructional time back," he said.
And at Riverview, the program has helped staff and students interact better, Holmes said.
She and Strawn said a school's atmosphere is critical to learning.
Holmes started a character-building program at Riverview years ago and said the Olweus program is a great addition to achieving her goal of creating a sense of family at her school.
She said the key to the anti-bullying effort is teaching children how to have open, honest communication to constructively address situations with their peers.
And while punishment can become part of the equation, suspending children for bad behavior won't solve a bullying problem, Holmes said. Those students need help dealing with underlying issues, which is a critical piece of the process.
Strawn and Holmes recognize that bullying is a societal problem, which is why they are reaching out to parents and the broader community.
They held a festival at Massaponax High School last month to increase awareness.
The principals know better awareness of bullying may initially result in a spike in reports, but they're hopeful it will produce long-term benefits.
"It may not ever go away, but we'll have kids who are better able to cope with it than if you never would have addressed it," Strawn said.
And both principals think the investment of time and energy in confronting the problem will produce results in the classroom.
"School needs to be fun," Strawn said.
Making it a place where everyone feels safe and connected to their classmates and teachers should boost academic success.
"I don't think you can have a conversation about improving your academics without talking about your school climate," Strawn said.
But he cautioned against getting too optimistic too fast.
"Just because this program is in place doesn't mean we've solved it," he said.
Pamela Gould: 540/735-1972
1. We will not bully others.2. We will try to help students who are bullied. 3. We will try to include students who are left out. 4. If we know that somebody is being bullied, we will tell an adult at school and at home.
--Olweus Bullying Prevention
CEDAR FOREST'S BULLY-FREE CHANT
No more bullying at our school.
It isn't nice and it isn't cool.
Every school has a right to be
safe and fun and bully-free!