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Anti-Defamation League, schools campaign against bullying

Photo by Hugh Osteen

Photo by Hugh Osteen

Incivility, intolerance, and intimidation can often be evident in schools where students grapple with peer pressure, and self-identity. Left unchecked, school officials contend, students can easily fall prey to bullying, or become bullies themselves.

Area schools are implementing cultural-diversity programs as a means to end, and prevent, bullying among students, according to Holli Levinson, education director of the non-profit Anti-Defamation League (ADL) Southeast Region.

"In order to really combat bullying, and general forms of prejudice and intolerance, it's really about impacting the whole school community," Levinson said. "Just disciplining the bullies is not going to stop the bullying. That's just a piece of it.

"Our focus is on bullying prevention," she continued. "That's really our message. It's getting people to rally around this idea that this is the way we want our school to be."

Levinson paid a visit to Locust Grove High School on March 17, to recognize the school for earning its second "No Place for Hate" designation, in the school's second year of operation.

Schools earn the "No Place for Hate" designation demonstrating various efforts to promote tolerance, cultural diversity and education, which includes completing three projects toward those ends, she said.

Levinson noted that 120 schools in Georgia earned a "No Place For Hate" designation during the 2009-10 school year. The impact, she said, reached an "estimated 120,000 students, 108,000 educators, and countless additional parents and community members involved in their school's No Place For Hate initiatives."

ADL trained about 20 members of Locust Grove's student diversity club, informing them of the effects of cyber bullying. "Cyber bullying is the new frontier," said Levinson. The ADL education director said the club's cyber-bullying training included teaching students ways to combat the new-age form of bullying. Club members, in turn, took those cyber-bullying lessons to their peers.

"Research shows that peer education is the most effective way of addressing bullying," she said. "I think that getting this education out, really can make a huge difference."

ADL's campaign to prevent bullying and promote tolerance began in earnest in Henry County in 2007, she said. Red Oak Elementary School, in Stockbridge, received the county's first "No Place for Hate" designation. She said schools such as Patrick Henry High School in Stockbridge, and Luella Middle School in Locust Grove, quickly followed suit.

"Patrick Henry High School is also leading the way with their cultural diversity work," remarked Anna Arnold, a retired educator, who continues to work part-time with the Henry County School System. Arnold, who acknowledged being bullied as a young student, serves as president of the International Bullying Prevention Association (IBPA), a 1,400-member organization supporting the use of research-based, bullying-prevention methods at schools, work and beyond.

"The key to solving this global injustice and incivility is to empower the 80 percent of students who are bystanders," Arnold said. "Schools that make their school culture and climate a place where intolerance and discrimination is not accepted, not cool and not allowed, are finding that the students, led the adults, are making great strides in the prevention of bullying and cyber bullying."

The bullying-prevention advocate said bullying-prevention teams in the school system are developing instructional lessons "based on scientifically proven research strategies for all their classroom teachers, so that they can better educate our students on how they can be empowered to defuse bullying and peer abuse."

"Every day, as IBPA president, I am responding to parents, teachers and principals, who are dealing with this crisis with their children," Arnold said. "My challenge is for every person to be sensitive to the way people are treating each other. If we, as the role models for our children, can show kindness, offer encouragement, be compassionate and responsive, listen objectively, and care passionately about others, we can make a difference, and help eradicate these issues."

Arnold plans to preside over the IBPA board through the organization's Eighth Annual IBPA Conference this fall, in New Orleans, La.

"We are planning this all-star lineup of outstanding researchers and educators in the field of bullying and cyber bullying to come together to promote prevention on Nov. 6 to 8, in New Orleans ... " she said.