Second in a Series
By all accounts, middle school is a challenging time. With so much changing in a student’s life, emotions can be portrayed in unhealthy ways.
To combat this and in an effort to ensure a safe learning environment for students, all local middle schools will have an anti-bullying program in place in the coming school year.
Programs at Cleveland Middle School and Ocoee Middle School have been established for a few years. But, the Olweus anti-bullying program at Lake Forest Middle School will be implemented for the first time starting in August.
These programs focus on the importance of having a common definition of bullying and seek to have students, teachers and administrators using the same terms when refering to bullying behavior.
definition of bullying
"The Olweus program has been at Ocoee Middle School for several years, and we are in the process of planning the training ... for Lake Forest," said Bradley County Schools Olweus trainer Shannon Lillard at the end of last school year. "The biggest thing with any bullying program is making sure that everyone is on the same page as far as what the definition of bullying is, and Olweus does that."
The program is named after Dr. Dan Olweus, a longtime research professor of psychology from Norway.
In addition to focusing on a common definition for bullying, Ocoee Middle School’s program gives students new common definitions for other words, including positive ones. The school has developed definitions for terms such as “strength,” “normal” and “courage.”
“What’s the better definition of strength, that you hit somebody when you’re mad at them or that you stay ... self-controlled and walk away so trouble doesn’t happen?” said Paul Sausville, related arts teacher at Ocoee Middle School, said.
Cleveland Middle School defines bullying as “repeated and systematic harassment and attacks on others, perpetrated by individuals or groups.”
Prevention in middle schools
Cleveland Middle School’s program STAND for Change was implemented two years ago. It reminds students to “Sympathize for others, Tell an adult, Accept differences, Never misuse technology, and Do your part.”
The program is unique to the school, but school counselor Luz Price said CMS is working on connecting it to the Olweus program. Teachers have been trained on Olweus, but it has not been fully implemented yet.
Colts Against Bullying is the Ocoee Middle School adaptation of the Olweus program.
Next year both programs want to focus on parental involvement in the processs.
“That parent component is something that Olweus really stresses,” Sausville said.
Parent involvement at Ocoee would be a part of the Colts Agains Bullying committee which brainstorms ideas and discusses how to address issues. In the beginning, the committee had parents on it, but this past year there has not been parental participation.
Price said CMS was also "working on having leaders come in and speak to the lower grades and talk to them about empathy and first impressions, acceptance."
“Empathy and social skills are going to be the main traits for next year,” Price said.
Lack of social skills is a key component to bullying behavior, according to Price.
“We’re so school/academic focused that we don’t teach ... kids is that if someone steps on your shoe all you say is, ‘Hey, you stepped on my shoe,’ and that’s it not ‘Hey, you stepped on my shoe and I’m going to beat you up,’” Price said.
Price said many times in middle school what might simply be considered playing around can suddenly be considered bullying by a student after an argument. This is why an emphasis is placed on students telling other students in a timely way how they feel about their actions.
Because the needs of students change frequently, the Olweus program uses student responses to surveys and “atmosphere evaluations” to monitor what is happening.
For Bradley County Schools, this information is processed by Lillard. Sausville said this data helps the school determine when and where bullying behavior is happening the most. The Olweus program is also data driven in that it has a pre- and post-survey component to measure perception of bullying.
Cleveland and Ocoee middle schools have used homeroom as a time to emphasize elements of the schools’ programs. On CAB meeting days, homeroom is extended to allow the teachers to show video clips or have discussions related to bullying issues.
“The CAB meeting is supposed to be something that’s consistent for us where kids can bring up issues, it’s not always about bullying,” Sausville said.”As it kind of progressed we wanted to paint a broader picture for the kids … let’s not just be about bullying but lets be for treating people well.”
This is also reflected in the CAB assemblies held on each half-day of school.
In focusing on treating people well the program has also broadened to address how this concept can be applied to relationships outside of school.
The Cleveland Middle program also uses schoolwide assemblies as a way to focus on being a part of the solution to bullying behavior.
Price said it’s about “Emphasizing ... standing up for people, not just being a bystander. Its more about empowering the bystander.”
School Resource officers play a major role in stopping bullying in the Cleveland City Schools at the middle school and high school level. Neither Bradley County Schools nor Cleveland City Schools have anti-bullying programs at the high school level. Any issues are handled by school administration, according to policy set in place by the Board of Education and the state Department of Education, just as in any other public school.
What students can do
Students also have a part to play in addressing and preventing bullying behavior. All local schools emphasize telling a teacher about any bullying behavior.
“We are very careful about not telling people about who told [of a possible bullying incident],” Price said.
Price said it is important for students who feel they are being bullied to tell a teacher or an administrator right when it happens.
“‘Snitch’ is a word that comes up a lot. It’s not being a snitch, a snitch tries to get someone in trouble,” Sausville said. “If the intent of the bystander is to help, then you’re not being a snitch.”
Price said empathy is a huge part of bringing an end to bullying behavior.
Price said she has been able to have students who were having issues with each other sit in the same room and talk out their issues.
“When they understand that they both have rough backgrounds ... right away something changes and they see it differently,” Price said. “It’s about having kids understand that those people are in a rough situation, too.”
This approach is used on a case-by-case basis. Price said when she gets to know the students, she knows which ones could benefit most from this approach.
Each of the public school systems emphasize to teachers and administrators the importance of taking complaints about bullying seriously.
Parents Jim and Rhonda Stouffer said they have seen this as they have had five students attend Lake Forest Middle School.
“I feel like they really do try to work with students and their parents,” she said. “ I feel like they really care about the kids.”
One son was the tallest student in the school when he attended. One day a sixth-grader seemed lost near the older grades building. The older student asked the younger student if he knew where he was going, then gave him a pat on the back when the sixth-grade student said he did not need help.
“They obviously take bullying very seriously because they called (him) and some of the others up to the office to ask what (Stouffer) had done and what had really happened,” Rhonda Stouffer said.
Rhonda Stouffer said she has always felt that her children were safe at the school.
Colts Against Bullying gives students creative opportunities to participate. Students are involved in writing material and creating videos for school assemblies.