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Schools combat bullying, promote 'pro-social' behavior

By Johnny Jackson

jjackson@henryherald.com

Nine-year-old Javaun Anderson stood and repeated the words: "Bully behavior happens when someone with greater power unfairly hurts someone with less power, over and over again."

He and others in his fourth-grade class at Luella Elementary School learned the expression along with ways they could combat bullying themselves.

Jim Williams, a demonstrative bullying prevention expert with the Love and Logic Institute, spoke in several assemblies at the school about the root of bullying and how to end it.

"I'm going to teach you something that you can go home tonight and teach your parents," said Williams, an invited guest at the school. The short assemblies were made possible through school counselor Emily Holzman and parent, Sam Fleet.

Fleet, who has a nine-year-old daughter at the school, said she became increasingly interested in the anti-bullying program as she learned more about it. "Everything about it is important," Fleet said. "The things he speaks of are pertinent to us today."

The program provides simple and practical techniques for teachers and parents and offers techniques to build relationships and neutralize arguments.

"It's everything you've ever wanted to know about how to get along with people and how to teach your children to become responsible people," said Anna Arnold, family resource coordinator for Henry County Schools.

The program, initiated in Henry six years ago, focuses on empowering students to act responsibly and to properly intervene when a peer is being bullied. It is taught throughout the year at various school cluster workshops. The program includes sessions for children up to age 12, married couples, and grandparents.

"We're an entitled generation," Arnold said. "We continue to almost communicate the message that 'you owe me.' We need to be more service oriented. We need to tell people to give more than they get. We're like ATM machines," she said. "It seems like we can't give our kids enough. And that's not what we need to be giving our kids."

Henry also incorporates the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program, a school-wide effort designed for use in elementary and middle schools to reduce and prevent bullying problems, and to improve peer relations at school.

Teachers at Fairview Elementary in Stockbridge hold Olweus meetings weekly, so they can be able to identify problems facing their students, said Yolanda Richburg, a school counselor at Fairview.

"It lets the teachers know exactly what's going on with their students," Richburg said. "And once they find out the problem, they can rectify the problem before it turns into something huge. It also gives the students a sense of trust in their teachers. It builds trust with the students, knowing that their teachers care and will do something about it."

According to Arnold, the "Olweus Bullying Prevention" and "Love and Logic" programs are compliments to one another. "They fit like a glove," she said.

"It's not a program, it's a philosophy," she said. "Everyone deserves to be treated with dignity and respect. It all goes back to their home environment. If there's dissension or conflict, that's obviously going to affect the school."

The objective, she said, is to help create a positive learning environment for students. "Even students who watch people being bullied in school are affected," Arnold explained. "Everybody benefits when you say everyone is going to be treated with dignity and respect."

The "Second Step" program is implemented at each elementary school in Clayton County. The program is a violence-prevention curriculum taught weekly in the classroom, said Ken Sanders, school counseling coordinator for Clayton County Public Schools.

"It teaches pro-social skills - skills that are needed to be able to get along in the world," Sanders said. Such skills, he said, include knowing how to communicate effectively and resolve conflicts easily.

Conflict resolution programs are implemented in Clayton's middle schools. Counselors, school psychologists, and middle school graduation coaches collaborate to help teachers, students and their parents deal with bullying situations.

"These are the skills that have to be taught," Sanders said. "These skills are important in school and out of school. Everybody needs to know how to get along with each other. That's a lifelong skill. If we can't get along, we can't learn."

Sanders, a former teacher, said his experience with dealing with students who have been bullied showed that the result of bullying most often manifested itself as a loss of concentration for the student and a loss in productivity for the student's class.

"When I'd go to them and find out what's going on, I'd find out that someone is talking about someone, someone is bullying someone, or someone is being mean to someone," Sanders said.

"Parents need to reinforce this at home," he said. "Children don't come with lesson plans. If they don't know how to resolve conflicts easily, they won't be able to. Developmentally, all students need to know this."