If educators could wave a magic wand and solve one problem affecting American schools, bullying would be high on the list. Teachers, support professionals and administrators are acutely aware that bullying can take a devastating emotional and academic toll on students – in fact, an estimated 160,000 students miss school each day because they fear being bullied.
While Pennsylvania’s educators may not have magic wands, a new study shows that through hard work and improved communication, they are helping to put a dent in bullying in the Keystone State.
According to “Bullying Prevention: A Statewide Collaborative That Works,” a report issued by the not-for-profit Highmark Foundation, bullying prevention programs that have been implemented across the state since 2006 are yielding positive results for students.
The foundation offered grants for hundreds of Pennsylvania schools and more than 17,000 educators to participate in the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program. Olweus is an evidence-based bullying prevention model that has been implemented in several countries and focuses on a combination of in-school interventions and parental and community engagement.
“We all realize that bullying is an issue that extends well beyond the wall of schools,” said Lynn Cromley, director of the Center for Safe Schools, Pennsylvania.
Schools that elected to participate in the bullying prevention program received intensive training for teachers, administrators and support professionals. They learned not only how to handle incidences of bullying, but how to create a more positive school culture where bullying would be less likely to flourish.
And, according to the report, the results have been encouraging. The Highmark research found that only three or more months after implementing the Olweus program, bullying decreased by 14 percent among elementary students and 25 percent among high school students. After six or more months of implementation, 14 percent of middle school students said that they would try to help another student who was bullied.
Of the Pennsylvania teachers who participated in the program, 90 percent said that after the training, they were very clear or fairly clear on how to respond to bullying. Further, students’ perceptions of how their teachers responded to bullying improved.
Professional development focused on bullying prevention has become critical in schools, because bullies have more tools at their disposal than ever before. The rise of texting and social media allows bullies to torment their victims with push-button ease – and often out of the sight of educators.
But by engaging all stakeholders, including educators, support professionals, kids, parents and community members, schools can go a long way toward building bully-free cultures.
“We do not have to accept a school climate where bullying abounds,” said Yvonne Cook, president of the Highmark Foundation.