Anti-bullying program encourages students to take responsibility

Bullying numbers have gone down since the program was implemented

Roughly four years ago, Student Assistance Counselor Christina Birch brought a new anti-bullying program to Palmyra Public Schools. Since then, bullying statistics in the district have improved each year.

The Olweus Bullying Prevention Program is the most well-known and researched program in the country. The program has more than 35 years of research and has been implemented all over the world.

Olweus is an anti-bullying program designed for students ages 5 to 15 years old, but can also be used in a high school setting with some adaptation. At Palmyra Public Schools, the entire district uses Olweus. The schools even have “Olweus Day” where students wear special shirts and advocate against bullying. Last Olweus Day, the high school students’ shirts read, “Bullying stops with me.”

Olweus has four anti-bullying rules: don’t bully others, try to help students who are being bullied, try to include students who are left out, and tell an adult if you know a student is being bullied. Additionally, teachers and staff are trained to deal with bullying situations, and students who bully others will be promptly given consequences. Students who are being bullied will be supported by staff, and teachers and staff meet with the parents of both parties.

Because one of the goals of Olweus is to include students who are left out, students also do a hands-on activity each month designed to introduce them to classmates they might not know very well. Birch says Olweus is successful because it focuses not on the bully or the victim, but on everybody else.

“Friends of bullying, people laughing, the person that would actually intervene,” Birch said. “The premise is to put bystanders where they would be more likely to intervene.”

Teachers and staff in the district along with the school resource officer were trained on how to implement Olweus. The program involves asking students to identify the amount and type of bullying at their schools, then working to reduce the level of bullying.

Reductions are made by encouraging the students to intervene when they see bullying and to make it their responsibility. The premise of the program is to encourage onlookers to feel responsible and to intervene.

To introduce Olweus to students, teachers hold classroom meetings to talk about what bullying is and why it shouldn’t happen. Teachers are also trained to prevent bullying by paying special attention to areas in the school where bullying is more likely to happen.

Birch added the biggest bullying platform by far in schools today is social media. Olweus encourages students to report bullying on social media as soon as they see it.

“When we were kids, if there was a bullying situation, we could go home and get a break from it. The kids now don’t get to get a break from it because they have access to social media,” Birch said. “It’s a constant 24/7 access to hurt other people.”

Whether social media bullying happens during the school day or at midnight on a Saturday, if it’s brought to the school’s attention, it’s their responsibility to solve it. Birch says she believes the students feel more connected to other students because of Olweus.

Olweus reports an average reduction in student reports of being bullied or bullying others as well as reductions in student reports of general antisocial behavior including vandalism, fighting, truancy and theft. It also reports improvement of social climate in the classroom displayed by positive social relationships, positive attitudes and improved order and discipline.

One of the many ways parents can support anti-bullying efforts in the district is by supporting school rules and climate efforts. They can also work as a team with the child’s teachers by attending parent-teacher conferences and other events.

The program emphasizes that it is also important that parents stress the value of education to students and challenge their children with educational goals and high expectations. Being a good role model is also important. The district hopes all of these at-home efforts combined with at-school efforts will improve the lives of students.

“This is your school, these are the people you have grown up with,” Birch said. “Palmyra is a school town — pretty much everybody knows everybody. It’s a close-knit community and a close-knit school.”