School pilot program aims to abate bullying

Bullying always has been a tradition of sorts at school, but an increasing number of suicides by the victims in recent years has prompted action from lawmakers and school administrators.

Nevada passed a bullying law in July that creates a state Week of Respect in October to educate students about bullying. The law also created strict guidelines for schools to follow regarding the reporting and investigation of bullying incidents.

One in three students age 12 through 18 is bullied, according to a 2007 study by the U.S. Department of Education.

Clark County School District officials said they are taking the issue seriously and have implemented a pilot program this school year to reduce instances of bullying.

The Operation Respect program will take place at 11 elementary and middle schools. The program will be modified and is expected to expand next school year after the data are analyzed.

The district is implementing new curriculum and classroom strategies at those schools to prevent bullying, said Connie Kratky, coordinator of the district’s Equity and Diversity Education Department.

"We want to deal with it proactively," Kratky said. "Then automatically by the time they get to high school, it cancels that out."

The district sponsors professional development for teachers and will cater training to each school’s different demographics. The message delivered to elementary schoolchildren is unique to that age group, Kratky said.

More information can be found at operationrespect.org.

The district also works closely with other community groups such as R&R Partners and the Anti-Defamation League, which also run programs to combat bullying. For the past seven years the ADL’s No Place f or Hate program has reached more than 150 schools and 160,000 students.

No Place f or Hate is the umbrella name for all of the ADL’s anti-bullying and anti-bias programs in the county.

While in the program, every student, teacher and administrator signs a resolution of respect. Schools in the program also must select three school wide activities to encourage friendship among students. Schools receive a ceremony and a banner at the end of the year designating the school as a No Place f or Hate zone.

Georgia Neu, project director for No Place f or Hate at the ADL, said some schools’ bullying incidents have decreased by 70 percent.

"What this program does best is it creates a civil climate in the school," Neu said.

The program teaches kids the same vocabulary to identify different aspects of bullying, such as "aggressor," "bystander" and "allies."

The program also uses "oops" when kids realize they’re bullying and "ouch" when someone is being bullied.

"I know it sounds so elementary," Neu said. "But when you say something that is negative to remind them they didn’t do the right thing, the first reaction will be defensiveness. It’s a very simple, little thing. We have a lot of different techniques for helping them become friends."

This year the program is in more than 30 schools at all grade levels, reaching more than 30,000 students.

More information can be found at noplaceforhate.org.

The recent hazing incident involving Western High School’s football team prompted administrators to forfeit the remaining games and suspend several players. Neu acknowledged that it was a "painful position" for everyone involved, but she was encouraged by the decision.

"I think it is one of the most profoundly promising things I’ve heard in a long time," Neu said. "I t’s incredibly important, I think, that the school district stood up and said we will not tolerate this.

"I think the spotlight has caused a lot of schools to walk away from the old-fashioned idea that bullying is just part of growing up."

Another resource for students and parents is flipthescriptnow.org , a website started by local advertising firm R&R Partners.

The Flip the Script website launched in June and provides a "clearinghouse" of information, said Catherine Levy, director of public affairs for R&R. The website is viewable in Spanish, too.

Levy said the website also is an important resource for parents, who maybe are not as aware as they should be about the issue of bullying.

"What we’ve noticed most is that parents weren’t necessarily aware of all the things they could do to keep an eye on what’s going on," Levy said. "If nothing else, it’s increased awareness that this is an issue that needs to be addressed."

Everyone interviewed said that cyberbullying has become the most vicious form of bullying. It also is the biggest challenge because it’s the one that adults know the least about and because anonymity is so prevalent on the I nternet.

Levy recommends keeping the computer in a public room in the house and being friends with kids on Facebook to at least deter them from such activity.

"Cyberbullying has taken on a life of its own," Levy said. "It’s something that people never expected to have to deal with."

Contact View education reporter Jeff Mosier at jmosier@viewnews.com or 224-5524.

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