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Schools adopt bullying programs

Published: Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2012 5:30 a.m. CDT • Updated: Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2012 11:16 a.m. CDT

Schools across the area have their own methods of confronting the bully. Their tactics may be different, but their goals are the same – keep students safe and able to learn in peace.

Some experts say schools should focus on stopping the bully.

“If you really want to solve the bullying problem, you go after the bullying,” said Brenda High with the Bully Police, a national watchdog organization. “You ... figure out what’s going on psychologically to see why they think it’s OK to hurt somebody.”

But others say schools should give priority to providing help to those who are being bullied.

“We have to teach [children anti-bullying] strategies the same way we would teach stranger-danger skills,” said Judy Freedman, a bullying expert. “Kids cannot control the words or actions of the teaser, but they can control their reactions to the tease.”

District 300’s Algonquin Middle School has adopted a Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports, or PBIS, framework. With PBIS, which has curriculum dedicated to bullying prevention, students are encouraged, and sometimes rewarded, for favorable academic and social behavior.

PBIS outlines what behavior is expected of the children and “celebrates those successes,” Principal Peggy Thurow said.

The program establishes rules and expectations because, as Thurow said, “if kids don’t know what that looks like, they can’t ask us for help.”

“For us, PBIS makes sense,” she said. “... It has proven success in every district that uses it.”

But not all efforts are met with open arms by all.

As District 47 looks to implement Character Counts, an ethics-based educational program, some parents approached the school board urging them to reconsider.

The program’s principles are trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring and citizenship, which some school board members said they would support when the measure comes up for a vote next month. But some parents urged the board to leave the parenting to them.

“The values I pass on to my child should be of my choosing, and schools should focus on academics,” a District 47 parent told the board earlier this month.

District 47 is joining nearly every school in the county to offer Rachel’s Challenge, started in memory of the students who died in the Columbine school shooting. Other schools couple anti-bullying programs with ongoing faculty discussion and awareness on how to combat it.

Peer-to-peer interventions, such as District 200’s Choose Respect group, has seen its own share of successes.

“What the great thing is about having kids as our allies ... is that when they hear stories from other kids, it speaks so much louder,” Pioneer Center’s Cjay Harmer said. Harmer is a peer intervention specialist and conducts anti-bullying programs at county schools and works with Choose Respect.

Choose Respect is a team of high school students that once a year conducts an all-day seminar with middle school students. Not only do they discuss bullying, but at-risk behaviors in other relationships, such as those with a significant other, said Laura Crain, the group’s leader.

“These kids work with younger kids,” Crain said. “We weren’t sure other high school students would hear [the message] as fully.”

Additionally, working with a younger age group allows Choose Respect to address the issues head-on and “before it becomes a huge issue.”

“The only people poised to stop bullying are the kids themselves,” Crain said. “Kids need to send the message to other kids that they’re done with the bullying conversation.”

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