By Anya Tikka
FALLSBURG Thomas J. Ellison, Prevention Specialist at the Sullivan County BOCES PBIS (Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports) said about bullying, “Schools have a very specific culture.”
Ellison was giving day-long bullying prevention training to about 45 Liberty and Fallsburg school teachers, administrators and other school staff at the Fallsburg Central District School.
“Ask is it helping in bullying? Once a month visit with a follow-up doesn’t work, you want to have a school-wide systemic approach from now until you totally eradicate bullying from your school,” he continued.
The OLWEUS method Ellison and trainers Julliet Coxum and Sherry Runk from New York State Center for School Safety in New Paltz teach aims to change the whole culture of the school to be one where no bullying is tolerated. Especially important in this, said Ellison, is the role of the bystanders. We want everyone to change the school culture to say, ‘This doesn’t happen in our school,’ explained Ellison.
The method is named after the man who developed it, Dan Olweus, Ph.D, a pioneer in bullying prevention at the University of Bergen in Norway. He defines bullying as “behavior that is intended to cause harm or distress, occurs repeatedly over time, and occurs in a context in which there is an imbalance of power.”
Ellison said it’s the only method that has been researched and proven to work, if implemented correctly. According to the original research done with 40,000 participants, if the program is followed, it’s 60-70 percent successful in reducing bullying. Later, three separate US studies found the results varied from 20-70 percent success, perhaps due to how faithfully the program was followed, said Ellison.
The training day in early October was the first meeting to form a bullying Prevention Coordinating Committee in Liberty and Fallsburg, a program that can take almost a year. After the up to a year-long training of the Committee, one of the first steps is a questionnaire to pinpoint patterns, hot-spots, school climate, and attitudes. An important step in the program is to define school rules which include:
• Developing policy on bullying
• Anti-bullying rules (“We do not bully”)
• Positive and negative consequences.
• Introducing the rules and consequences to the school
Runk said it takes 18 months to three years to start to feel the effects, and three-to-five years for cultural change. Coxum added the PBIS program already in place in most schools is a good place to start, and this can be tailored to it.
Ellison continued by saying that bullying behavior can be predicted from the home and parenting environment risk factors, but since nothing can be done about those, the schools have to take an active role. He explained that bullying is not part of growing up, or a “rite of passage.”
In bullying, there’s an imbalance of power. The kids are not peers, said Ellison. Acknowledging that although presenters and authors like Barbara Coloroso or Rachel’s Challenge Assembly basically say the same thing, he noted that they don’t have a program to implement it.
Louis Viornery, a social worker from Fallsburg Elementary School attending the training asked, “What do we do not to fail?”
Some trainees commented about the difficulty of finding the time for the extra training that needs to be done on top of keeping up with the curriculum. The trainers said the time line is important, it can’t be rushed or everyone can be put off, cautioning strongly against starting the program too early when everything is not in place, because it will lead to waste of money. Ellison assured everyone he will work with them to find the time.
Viornery also commented New York State has passed tough anti-bullying laws, and recommended watching Anderson Cooper 360 on CNN that was running special programs on bullying this week. Facebook has also added several pages about bullying recently, he concluded.
Program trainer Coxum said the program is costly, but it can be financed through Sullivan County Cares Coalition. A school that wants to take part can get in touch with Coxum in New Paltz at 255-8989.
More information can be found at stopbullying.gov and www.olweus.org/public/index.page.