By Eric Walters
Williamston Post staff writer
Next fall, Williamston’s elementary and middle schools will introduce a new bullying prevention program.
The process began last year when Tanya Dupuis, the middle school’s former behavior coach, realized that bullying was dealt with in a reactive fashion. There was nothing in place to prevent bullying. Dupuis researched several programs, eventually choosing the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program. John Travis, the current behavior coach, said that the Olweus program was picked because it has data to back up its claims.
The Olweus program has three main goals within four main components. The three goals, as listed on the website, are to reduce existing bullying problems among students, prevent new bullying problems and achieve better peer relations at school. The components make the program unique by focusing on more than just the classroom. There are school, individual, classroom and community level components. This means that bullying will be monitored at all student activities, including their hang-out spots in the community.
Williamston is currently in the first stage of implementing the new program. A bullying prevention coordinating committee has been assembled, consisting of school board members, teachers and parents. The committee was trained by the Oakland Mediation Center. Training consisted of learning facts about bullying, as well as how to intervene when bullying is taking place. The next step is to have students fill out a questionnaire with basic questions about bullying, such as where they see bullying occur or if they feel they have been bullied in the last few months.
One of the largest hang-ups has been classroom meetings. The Olweus program calls for 45-minute meetings once a week. The meetings teach students proper communication skills, and build a climate of trust between students and adults, as well as between students themselves. With school schedules being tight, finding time for the meetings is difficult.
“Last spring, the elementary schools said they were on board with us, but then they were kind of backing out with that. One of the biggest problems for them were the classroom meetings,” Travis said. “They’ve already had to add time for math and science, to meet the new state requirements, so it was really tough for them to think about losing 40 minutes or so.”
Travis said that a schedule to accommodate the meetings is being worked on and despite the concerns, the elementary schools are on board with the program. This means the program will be implemented K-8 in Williamston schools. The Olweus website states that the program is designed for grades 3-10. The site also says that the program can work in high schools, but with some modification. In Williamston, grades 9 and 10 are at the high school. Jeff Thoenes, the Williamston High School principal, said there are no plans to bring the program to the high school.
In the fall of 2012, the Williamston schools will introduce the new program with a kick-off event. Travis said the district hopes to get a few local celebrities, such as Michigan State coaches Tom Izzo and Mark D’Antonio, to appear. That way, the kids will hopefully be enthusiastic about it and excited, Travis said.
While the school district can’t predict what will happen when the program is implemented, administrators have hopes.
“If I were to say that there was a main goal of the program it would be creating an emotionally and physically safe place to learn,” Travis said. “We want the kids to know that adults and other students care about them.”