Cherry Creek targets classroom aggressors with ‘Bullying 2.0’
By Peter Jones
Bullies on the playground are as storied as apples on the teacher’s desk, but the Cherry Creek School District is prepared to do something about them.
The district’s recently retooled program, now called Bullying 2.0, is a multi-tiered effort to curb the age-old problem through a mix of educational courses, direct intervention and victim empowerment. Cherry Creek has also assembled a team of mental-health professionals well versed in the causes and cures of education’s oldest schoolyard problem.
Dr. Marla Bonds, a clinical psychologist who serves as Cherry Creek’s bullying-prevention coordinator, says the comprehensive grant-funded Bullying 2.0 program encourages the entire school community to become aware, get involved and use an arsenal of tools to stop bullies in their tracks.
“We need everyone to address bullying right when they see it and know how to handle it,” Bonds said. “It can be hard to distinguish at first.”
The district’s efforts are part of a national trend. Schools are increasingly taking a proactive stance against aggressive behavior by students – especially in this era of increased cyber-bullying and recent national attention on hazing rituals and bias-based harassment on high school and college campuses.
“Columbine is what really woke everyone up that this is a real problem and it can go really awry,” Bonds said. “For a while, people really got intense about intervention. Since then, it’s kind of waned and there’s been a lot of focus on test scores.”
In 2010, Cherry Creek Superintendent Mary Chesley decided to renew the district’s concentration on bullying prevention. The result has been Bullying 2.0, a reworking of a program the district initiated in the 1990s. The effort has included curriculum for both students and teachers on “bully-proofing your school,” “relationship aggression” and “handling harassment in the hallway in three minutes or less.”
Part of the lesson has been changing the culture and social pressures surrounding bullying. Where “snitches” were once subject to exile at the hands of locker-room toughs, Cherry Creek has strived to reboot the school’s long-standing hierarchy.
“We want to make it cool to help other kids, to break the social norm that you’re supposed to mind your own business,” Bonds said. “It’s everyone’s responsibility to take a stand when they see someone being potentially harmed.”
Bystanders and victims in tough situations are advised to try several strategies, including “agreeing” with the bully to get out of a situation or simply tapping into their sense of humor at the right time.
“It’s not making fun of the student who’s doing the bullying, but it’s diffusing the situation by saying something funny that kind of distracts and doesn’t give power over to the person that’s doing the bullying,” Bonds said.
Students are also encouraged not to internalize a bully’s taunts by considering the source and engaging in positive “self-talk.”
“When kids start to believe they deserve the bullying, they’re sunk. They go into patterns where it might actually happen more often,” Bonds said.
Twenty-first century bullying can also happen on the Internet, a wilderness the schools are challenged to control.
“We’re teaching institutions and we’re teaching kids to be successful in their life,” Bonds said. “To teach cyber ethics is part of our charge. Kids find these chat rooms before adults are there. They’re not thinking about the incredible consequences that could happen when they send out a photo. Bullying gets more complex as kids get older because it’s more sophisticated and goes underground.”
As the bullies grow up, there is also an increased risk that the bullying behavior can be carried on into adulthood, risking more serious abuse and criminal behavior. To better understand and deal with the causes of bullying early, Cherry Creek is conducting a broad survey of the various scientific studies on the subject.
“The research is really showing us that it is a more complex pattern of behavior than we looked at 10 or 15 years ago,” Bonds said. “You have to look at where they have a history of being abused at home, or are there other things driving the behavior?”
Bullying 2.0 seems to be working. According to a 2010 Climate Safety and Wellness Survey conducted by the Cherry Creek School District, bullying decreased significantly while “helping behavior” increased during the previous two-year period.
The biennial district-wide survey will be conducted again this fall.
“If any bullying is happening, that’s too much,” Bonds said. “Research shows that it’s going to be really hard to completely extinguish bullying, but if we do this campaign where we make it normal to take a stand and help kids, we can move mountains.”
2018 All Rights Reserved. Villager Publishing |