Positive Adult-Student Relationships, Trust And Fairness Keys To Reducing Bullying (page 4)
Every day, about 160,000 students in the United States miss school because they are scared of bullying.
Bullying has become such a serious problem that at least 19 states have rules that school districts establish bullying prevention policies and programs.
In one such state - Colorado - recent research shows that 60 percent of educators surveyed consider bullying the single most important problem or among the top five problems facing their school. Almost all felt it was their responsibility to intervene in bullying.
Educators in Colorado are working hard to make schools safe environments for learning and decrease violence, aggression and truancies. Some are showing remarkable success.
Consider Brush Middle School, located in a rural community about 90 miles northeast of Denver. The rate of bullying among the school's eighth-graders was one of the highest in the state. These rates dropped dramatically by 56 percent after the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program was introduced. The program trains school staff, students and parents to reduce bullying, prevent future bullying and improve relationships at every level.
"Everyone on staff said, 'This is a priority,'" says Angel Giffin, bullying prevention coordinator for the Brush School District. "We listened to what students said they needed, like more adult supervision during free time, and we made those changes. When you take time to really listen and talk with kids, you build their self-esteem and self worth, and their behavior comes around."
She says that bullies began realizing the impact they had on other students. Some became defenders of those they previously had bullied. Others improved the way they interacted at school - and everywhere else in their life.
"When you hold kids to a higher standard, they rise to the challenge," says Giffin. "As time progressed, we saw kids stepping up to intervene in bullying situations. And when they began developing more positive relationships at school, their grades went up and they got more involved in activities and sports."
Brush Middle School is one of 54 schools that participated in The Colorado Trust's 2005-2008 bullying prevention initiative. The goal was to help youths and adults intervene in and prevent bullying through training, networking, practice sessions and other strategies. The Colorado Trust is a grantmaking foundation devoted to advancing the health and well-being of the people of Colorado.
Now, an independent evaluation commissioned by The Colorado Trust sheds new light on what it really takes to reduce bullying, who bullies and what types of bullying are prevalent at different grade levels.
Evaluators studied the impact of the three-year, $9 million bullying prevention initiative funded by The Colorado Trust. The initiative involved 45 schools, school districts and community-based organizations. Together, they reached 50,000 young people and adults in 40 Colorado counties in rural, suburban and inner-city areas.
Bullying takes many forms - from one-on-one blows in the schoolyard to malicious rumors spread online. Reflecting an imbalance of power, bullying is the intentional exclusion of targeted youth in activities, and unprovoked physical and verbal attacks.
The new research validates what common sense tells us: Positive adult-student relationships and a school culture of trust and fairness not only reduce bullying, but also are linked to schools with better student achievement.
Students who reported a sense of belonging in school, and who said the staff treated them fairly and with respect were significantly less likely to report bullying others and more likely to ask adults to intervene in bullying situations. They told evaluators that bullying occurred less when students trusted teachers and other adults, and felt that the school was responsive to their needs.
"It doesn't always happen that adults outside of school - even parents - take an interest in kids," says Melanie Voegeli-Sorris of Poudre School District in Fort Collins, 60 miles north of Denver. Poudre is one of the school districts that participated in the three-year initiative and evaluation.
"If kids feel like they are being heard and see more of their needs being met, they can focus better in class," says Voegeli-Sorris, who led the school district's mental health team for eight years and now coordinates special assistance and services for students.
The findings also show an association between bullying and academic achievement. Schools with less bullying had higher scores on state tests in reading, writing and math combined during the first two years of the initiative.
"The data did not reveal whether low-achieving schools provided a favorable environment for bullying or whether bullying interfered with learning and achievement," said lead evaluator Kirk Williams of Cadre Colorado, LLC. "Both likely are true."
Of the 54 schools participating in the three years of the initiative and evaluation, almost one-third of schools that experienced less bullying in year one had higher-than-average scores on state tests. In year two, that number increased to almost half of schools - 47 percent.
At the start of the initiative in 2005, bullying incidents were prevalent in school districts, schools and community-based organizations funded by The Colorado Trust. Bullying was noticeably higher in middle schools and in rural areas.
The majority of fifth through 12th graders surveyed that first year said they had experienced physical, verbal or Internet bullying. And students from elementary through high school reported that they had bullied others that year. However, the frequency of bullying was low. Students reported bullying others once or twice during the year.
The findings tell us more about who bullies and what types of bullying are prevalent at different grade levels.
Boys were 75 percent more likely to use physical bullying than girls and 22 percent more likely to verbally bully others. But evaluators found no gender difference for cyberbullying.
In middle school, physical and cyberbullying increased, but dropped off in high school. Verbal bullying spiked in middle school and remained elevated in high school. In fact, almost 80 percent of middle and high school youths reported that they had verbally bullied others.
High school dynamics, however, grow more complex because bullying occurs below the adult radar - such as cyberbullying.
The findings suggest that bullying prevention programs should begin during elementary school when behavior is emerging, and intervention efforts should be stepped up in middle and high school, with extra emphasis on verbal bullying.
Left unchecked, bullying leads to long-term detrimental effects for the victims. Studies have linked bullying to higher rates of absenteeism in school and increased chances of academic failure.
At its extreme, bullying can be deadly. A U.S. Department of Education study found that students who had experienced sustained threats and verbal and physical peer aggression carried out two-thirds of school shootings.
The statistics for the bullies also are sobering. Research shows those with a history of bullying typically have a criminal record by age 24.
The Colorado Trust believes every child deserves a real opportunity to grow up safe and healthy in Colorado - and in every community across the nation. Understanding what leads to bullying and what strategies are most effective in preventing it are an important part of making schools safe for all young people.
These evaluation findings may be helpful to education, health, community and policy leaders - as well as parents and students themselves - to ensure a continuing commitment to provide safe, positive environments within schools and communities for years to come.
Highlights of the evaluation of The Colorado Trust's bullying prevention initiative are in the report Build Trust, End Bullying, Improve Learning available at www.coloradotrust.org
Reprinted with permission from The Colorado Trust.
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