St. Johns Schools Begin to Address Bullying Problem

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By: Jordan Mueller

The St. Johns School District is adding a bullying prevention program into its curriculum, slated to begin in the fall of 2013 in accordance with Michigan’s newanti-bullying law.

Gov. Rick Snyder signed an anti-bullying law into effect, which requires each school district in the state to implement a policy or program that directly confronts bullying within the school systems.

Michigan was the 48th state to pass anti-bullying legislation.

The St. Johns School District spent the greater part of the current school year researching which program appears to have the best results. St. Johns High School Assistant Principal, Mark Horak deals with disciplinary issues each day and said that bullying has been a problem at the school in the past so he is excited to begin the new program.

“It happens,” said Horak. “We’re not going to deny that it happens. There’s a lot that goes on.”

Horak said that he has seen a lot of hurt feelings as the assistant principal and has had to deal with issues such as bullying, drama and students being picked on frequently.

“It doesn’t really matter what you classify it as, if it’s someone with hurt feelings because of someone else’s actions, it can be called bullying,” said Horak. “Bottom line is that no matter what term you use, we want to do what we can to make sure kids feel comfortable, kids feel safe here at school.”

The St. Johns School District recently chose the Olweus Program as its bullying prevention program that will satisfy the law’s requirements. St. Johns Middle School Principal, Scot Henry said the school looked at many other programs before deciding on which one to use.

“Some schools are implementing peer mediator workshops and programs like that to fulfill the governor’s requirement, but we liked what we saw with Olweus,” said Henry.

Horak echoed Henry’s thoughts and said that he was impressed with the Olweus Program.

“Two things that impressed us are that it is curriculum based and data proven,” said Horak.

The district assembled a core team, consisting of several St. Johns faculty members. School District Nurse, Karla Palmer, heads the core team and said the school did significant research on the Olweus Program.

“We are in the stages of completing the Student Perception Survey,” said Palmer. “We will take a look at the results when we get those and determine how the kids feel about bullying, if they bully other people or if they were the victim of bullying.”

The school wide survey was given to the middle school and high school students within the district because the core team believes this is when the majority of bullying takes place.

“It’s our job to make sure the kids feel they are in a safe place while at school,” said Henry.

The core team will receive their Olweus training in May and they will then be expected to pass it on to every faculty member at the middle school and high school.

Wendy Sellers works for Eaton Intermediate School District and also serves as the regional health coordinator for schools in Clinton, Ingham and Eaton Counties. As the regional health coordinator, she has now also become the provisional Olweus trainer and said she is not surprised that the St. Johns School District chose Olweus.

“The Olweus Program is the Cadillac of bullying prevention programs,” said Sellers. “It’s often chosen by schools because it is based off of 35 years of research.”

Sellers has studied the program and will now teach the core team from St. Johns how to apply the program in the daily curriculum.

“The St. Johns committee will have a two-day training with me as the facilitator,” said Sellers. “This training will equip the staff with the knowledge they need to teach the rest of the faculty.”

The Olweus Program is known most notably for its weekly integration into the students curriculum.

“One of the big pieces of the program is classroom meetings,” said Palmer.

“At our training, we will discuss what will happen in the classroom meetings as well as what classes they will take place in.”

Palmer said it is imperative that the schools introduce these lessons weekly.

“It’s important that the kids hear that consistent message of this is what is and is not acceptable,” said Palmer.

The Olweus Program involves far more than just the teachers who will lead the weekly lesson plans. In order to be successful, the program demands that any person who may come into contact with the students during the school day be prepped with the knowledge.

“Research says that every person in the building: teachers, recess monitors, bus drivers, custodians, food service, everyone must be included if we want a school wide change to be successful,” said Sellers.

The program requires a strict list of rules regarding bullying that will govern the school district.

“We will develop a student behavior rubric,” said Palmer. “This way, the program is very spelled out. You know, if this type of behavior happens, this is the exact consequence.”

Principal Henry noted that there are significant differences in the way bullying is handled today compared with when he was growing up.

“Middle school kids can be mean,” said Henry. “When I was in school, it was just ‘deal with it,’” said Henry. “If you tried to bring it up to your dad at home, he told you to toughen up.”

However, Henry said he realizes it is a different day in age and kids are going about bullying in new ways by using the internet as a weapon.

“Cyber-bullying is a big thing now,” said Henry. “Now we deal not only with conventional bullying, but with kids and their social media. Kids can be pretty mean on their Facebooks.”

Michigan State University Sociology Professor, Carl Taylor is an expert in youth violence and said he believes technology has changed the culture of youth violence.

“Technology has just changed the whole playing field as it relates to youth violence, intimidation and bullying,” said Taylor.

Despite the fact that the government has begun to address bullying in schools, Taylor said he believes we are a long way from where we need to be.

“I don’t think politicians understand what’s going on. Youth violence and bullying have been going on for hundreds of years and no one has really addressed it until it hit middle class America,” said Taylor. “I don’t think any effort that I have seen from the White House on down has been sufficient to be honest with you.”

Taylor goes even further in attempting to explain the severity of bullying and youth violence in America today.

“I think a much stronger word is needed. Bullying makes it a little lightweight to me,” said Taylor. “I don’t think bullying carries today. In many cases, I think people are being terrorized.”

MSU Assistant Professor of Education, Christine Greenhow is an expert in children’s use of social media, with her most recent work examining Twitter, MySpace and Facebook. Greenhow said that even though she is concerned about bullying, she is not sure how often the internet is actually the weapon used by bullies.

“One thing I will say is that kids are going to bully kids. We’ve had that fact around for ages,” said Greenhow.

Greenhow has worked with high school students and their use of social media in the classroom and said she saw little cyber bullying occurring.

“I don’t think it’s as big an issue as the public perceives it,” said Greenhow. “If you look at studies of cyber bullying, the actual number of kids who are cyber bullied is very small.”

Greenhow said that although cyber bulling may not be occurring in large amounts, the students who are victimized by it still suffer immensely.

“Among the people I’ve studied, social media is viewed as mostly positive,” said Greenhow. “But I think it’s going to depend on the individual and the situation. I think for some students, social media can be a largely negative experience.”

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