By Mike Marsee
Administrators and teachers at East Carter Middle School have seen channels of communication open that didn’t exist before they began implementing a bullying prevention program earlier this year.
Staff members at the Carter County school have been thrilled with the impact the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program has had so far and they are looking forward to seeing even more positive results from the internationally renowned program in the years ahead. So do two Kentucky Department of Education staffers who stand ready to offer the program to other schools at little cost and train them in how to utilize it.
East Carter Middle was the first school to take them up on that offer this summer. The school is starting to see the results of the program, which is designed to prevent and reduce bullying in schools by involving the entire school, including students, educators, staff and parents.
“It’s still kind of early in the game, but I do feel like the relationships are a lot stronger now and they’re getting stronger,” said Breianna Shaffer, a 7th-grade science teacher. “We’re now having more of a relationship impact with our students, so we’ll know more of what’s going on.”
East Carter Middle adopted the program in July after school officials turned to KDE for help with bullying prevention. It was only two months earlier that Sherry Clusky and Victoria Fields, program consultants with KDE’s Division of Student Success, had gone to South Carolina to become Olweus-certified trainers. They introduced the program to East Carter Middle Principal Jenny Stark.
“Immediately when we talked to them about the program, they were very excited,” Clusky said.
Clusky and Fields said the door is open for more schools to adopt the Olweus program. They will become fully certified as trainers if at least three more schools adopt the program by the end of the 2016-17 school year. They can provide about $2,000 worth of materials to three schools that commit to the program, with a cost to the schools of roughly $1 per student.
“It’s an excellent time for them to step up and say, ‘We need to address bullying issues in our school,’” Clusky said. “We are able to provide them the materials for free and it will help us get our certification, so it’s a win-win for everyone.”
The program’s goals are to reduce and prevent bullying problems and improve peer relations among students, and it aligns with a number of core standards. It is being used extensively in other states, including Pennsylvania and South Carolina.
“It’s research-based and it’s been proven time and time again that it’s an effective system,” Fields said.
Stark testified to its effectiveness at East Carter Middle.
“Everybody has come on board and I’ve been really pleased with the results we’ve had so far,” she said. “We’re almost halfway through the year and we have some good behavior data to prove that our program is assisting with our PBIS (Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports) implementation.”
Tim Sheehan, a 6th-grade science teacher at East Carter, said the Olweus program has provided a good way to open up discussion about issues students are facing.
“This program just makes it so it’s a more open process between teachers and students. They feel more comfortable reporting things, and the biggest issue is having kids report,” he said. “It seems to have the right mindset, the right definitions for things, and I think it puts it in a way that kids are easily able to grasp it. It kind of breaks it down into skills that kids have like being assertive, and it helps them recognize bullying and recognize aggression and learn how to stand up for themselves and other kids.”
Public events such as pep rallies and parent nights have helped to get the word out, but East Carter Middle staffers say it is in private conversations where the Olweus program might be having the greatest impact.
In weekly class meetings, students are encouraged to talk about bullying when they see it take place.
“Every Monday we get together and spend 30 minutes with students. It’s smaller class sizes, so it gives us a chance to build one-on-one relationships with our students. They feel like they have a safe place to go to,” Schaffer said. “A lot of students will come to me and report other issues that really weren’t addressed before.”
Becky Walker, the coordinator of the school’s youth services center, said she also likes the class meetings.
“I think it’s real important for our students to have that time. For one thing, they can see they’re not the only one with a problem, they’re not the only ones that struggle with a certain issue. Now they have a safe place that they can talk about things and get help and feel that they are being listened to,” she said.
Assistant principal Kelley Moore, who chairs East Carter Middle’s Olweus implementation committee, said the class meetings are making a difference in the school.
“With the initial implementation, we have noticed a positive environment in the class meetings. I’ve had teachers report to me that they’ve found things out that they didn’t normally find out during the school year,” she said. “I’ve also noticed that the number of referrals and the intensity of administrative behavior referrals has gone down this year.
“The middle school culture is all about keeping things to themselves and not being marked as a tattler. It’s helped students open up.”
There also has been community involvement. The Grayson Rotary Club paid for a sign displayed prominently in the school lobby that spells out the anti-bullying rules the school adopted from the program. And in only a week, Walker lined up seven local businesses that volunteered to serve as safe places where students can talk to someone if they are being bullied. She expects many more to follow suit in the coming weeks.
“I think our community is starting to see that it’s not just a school problem, it’s a community problem, and it’s up to them to help the school provide safety for our students. They’re pleased to be afforded the opportunity to do that, I think,” she said. “It’s like, ‘Well, yeah, we should’ve been doing that a long time ago. Why haven’t we?’ When someone brings it to their attention, they’re willing to help and be a part of the solution as opposed to being part of the problem.”
Eighth-grader Kady Lewis said she thinks the program is making the school a safer place, and she thinks it’s working because the staff seems to be fully behind it.
“Teachers take it seriously, so therefore kids take it seriously, kids get more involved,” she said.
East Carter Middle students are involved in the program at several levels. Beta Club officers led the pep rally that launched it, which was blended into a school spirit day. Teams of students produced banners with anti-bullying slogans for a contest that drew votes from students and adults.
“I didn’t want it to be a big lecture about bullying. We wanted them to be excited about our school and how this is only going to make our school better,” Moore said.
Student Leadership Technology Program participants and Beta Club members have been conducting a research project based on the results of questionnaires completed by students at the start of the program.
“They are going to take those results, analyze them and then present them in February to their board of education,” Fields said. “They’re going to talk about what their school is doing with Olweus and present the results. We were so impressed with that.”
Fields said KDE would like to find a good cross-section of schools from different geographic and demographic areas to sign on for Olweus. Their efforts are focused on elementary and middle schools; Fields said high schools are welcome, but there may not be as many materials available for them.
While the cost is minimal, the commitment is not. Administrators from interested schools would meet with Fields and Clusky, the school would complete a readiness assessment and an agreement would be signed before trainings are scheduled.
“We want it to be a good fit for KDE and the school in order for it to be successful. It requires a huge commitment on their part,” Clusky said.
At East Carter Middle, Walker said she’s glad her school has made that commitment.
“It always takes one group, one school, one sent of parents, one group of people in the community that are willing to initiate, to step forward,” she said. “East Carter Middle School has done that here in Carter County, and I’m proud to be a part of it. Ultimately, it’s just good for our students and will benefit our community.”
MORE INFO …
Olweus Bullying Prevention Program www.clemson.edu/olweus
Sherri Clusky firstname.lastname@example.org
Victoria Fields email@example.com
Kelley Moore firstname.lastname@example.org
Jenny Stark email@example.com