Addressing bullying in local schools: What's being done - WAOW - Newsline 9, Wausau News, Weather, Sports

Addressing bullying in local schools: What's being done


By Bonnie Shelton

WAUSAU (WAOW)--According to the American Justice Department, one in four students is bullied. That's why local schools are buckling down and implementing programs to stop bullies in their tracks.

Nick Bohr is a fifth grader at Hawthorn Hills Elementary School. "I've been called names a few times and the first few times I was thinking, this is not good. I can't do anything. I can't focus on my school work."

Despite facing bullying before, Bohr is part of a relatively new program that's changing the way students interact with each other on the playground and in the classroom.

"When I first came to this school in Kindergarten, I noticed there was a big problem with bullying and that kept on until I was in about third grade when they came out with the program called safe school ambassadors," he said.

Safe school ambassadors trains fourth and fifth grade students to recognize bullying and then use tactics to diffuse the situation. Students volunteer to take part and meet once a week to discuss the school's environment, and what they're seeing. Teachers and parents participate in "family groups" with students to help teach confidence building techniques.

Principal Chris Budnik has seen results from the program. "Normally, by doing that, it will cut the bullying down by 70 percent," she said.

Although bullying still happens, she said having students who are trained to recognize and diffuse bullying situations is extremely important. Hawthorn Hills received a grant to institute the program. It's part of a larger effort to prevent bullying in local schools.

In 2010, then Governor Jim Doyle signed Senate Bill 154 into law, requiring all Wisconsin school districts to draft an anti-bullying policy. School's must follow the district policy, but have the option to seek out supplemental programs.

Another program that targets bullying is Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports, also known as PBIS.

"PBIS is really a framework for teaching pro-social behaviors," said John Marshall Elementary School Principal Shawn Sullivan. In other words, PBIS focuses on character building.
The idea is, if students know how to treat each other with respect, bullying won't happen.
But is it working? For many teachers and school administrators, it's simply too early to tell. PBIS is a three-tiered system, and most local schools are only implementing the first tier focusing on behavior tactics. The other tiers will be addressed in yearly succession.

Another area of concern: according to a representative from the Wausau School District, schools are required to consistently report pre-expulsion and expulsion cases, but they are only required to submit a complete disciplinary report to their school board once a year. That has some parents worried their child's issues could fall through the cracks.

Hawthorn Hills Principal Chris Budnik has experienced both sides of the heated issue. Her son was bullied in middle school.

"It is tough because you finally find out that there's a problem and then you look into it and the things that we did with my son didn't seem to make a difference. It just continued to the point where I just said, I mean, you really get worked up as a parent," Budnik said.

Although she understands all too well how easy it is to get invested in your child's bullying situation as a parent, as an administrator, she asks that you trust the process. "From my experience, you have to take a step back from it because we get so emotionally involved in it, almost more so than our students or our child, because were just that close to it."

That's why she's such a fan of the Safe School Ambassador program. It empowers the students to better themselves and in turn, their environment, for life.
Fifth grader Nick Bohr couldn't agree more. "Now were talking about this daily and that can really change things…I'm planning on using this for the rest of my life."
Proof positive you can empower students and change the way they think about bullies.

Online Reporter: Bonnie Shelton

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