York schools to use grant program to battle bullying

jbecknell@enquirerherald.comFebruary 27, 2014 

— A program designed to prevent school bullying and ensure a consistent approach to discipline among educators and staff will be implemented in all York schools in the fall.

The Olweus program, a national anti-bullying training and awareness effort, is part of a three-year counseling grant the York district received in 2012.

“It’s making sure we have an environment where no bullying is allowed, and where we promote students to talk about bullying situations, just making it a safe environment,” said Jennifer Bolin, principal of Cotton Belt Elementary School, where planning and training for the program began this year.

Cotton Belt and Hunter Street elementary schools were chosen in 2012 as the first two elementary schools to begin the training, said Sue Hilton, coordinator of counseling services. Hilton said training will be offered for the staff at all six elementary schools and York’s middle and high schools in the fall.

Hilton said the initiative aims to ensure a consistent approach to bullying at all schools. “Everybody is working in the same parameters,” she said. “Everybody understands the same language of defining what bullying is, how you define it.”

Superintendent Vernon Prosser said the program “is about changing the culture. If we’re going to address this problem, it has to be all of us involved, kids knowing what to do when they feel they’ve been bullies, adults knowing what to do when they get the report.”

The program grant, now in its second year, amounts to $255,026 this year to employ Hilton, cover training and materials to implement Olweus and to extend the district’s contract for school-based mental health counseling and provide professional development for counselors and school psychologists.

Implementation of the Olweus program was already in progress when the issue of bullying arose last month, during a heated York school board meeting.

Nicole Seaford, whose 12-year-old daughter was the victim in a Dec. 13 incident in which another 12-year-old girl was charged with assault, gave an impassioned speech to the board, asking for district policy changes that would protect students.

Several parents who attended the meeting angrily complained when board chairwoman Betty Johnson stopped Seaford from speaking, saying she had reached the five-minute time limit allowed for residents to address the board. Several parents who attended the meeting protested, saying the board should let Seaford finish.

Hilton, who talked to the York school board about the program last week, said it started in Norway in the 1970s and later spread to the United States.

“It’s the one with the most research behind it,” she said.

She said it defines bullying as a repeated event that includes an imbalance of power, such as one student who is bigger than another or who has a social following of other students. It can be physical, emotional, social or cyber bullying, she said.

She said the program includes student surveys at each school that ask children questions such as whether they have been a bully or the victim of a bully and where bullying typically takes place.

Bolin said she learned in the student survey at Cotton Belt that “bully zones” include the school bus, the gym in the morning and the playground.

“It was helpful for us to know those things so we know we need to address those situations, and talk about what those people supervising need to be looking for,” Bolin said.

Hilton said the program also calls for the formation of a panel of parents, educators and community members at each school who decide how the program should be implemented.

Hilton and Bolin said that once the staff is trained, teachers will conduct class discussions about bullying with students. Rules about bullying will be posted in the school, Bolin said.

Bolin also said teachers will conduct weekly class meetings with students where they talk about a bullying issue or experience or perhaps read a book on the issue.

“I feel like it’s a great program,” Bolin said. “This is something we feel like we need to give our kids the skills and knowledge to handle. It shows them how to handle a situation before it happens.”

Hilton agreed. “Instead of just being a piecemeal thing, this way it’s kind of a mindset, with the whole district working from the same set of rules and the same set of attitudes.”

Jennifer Becknell •  803-329-4077

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