The first few weeks of my first year of middle school were less than thrilling. Two older peers took great pleasure in making me their target of the month.
I tried changing seats on the bus, drowning out their verbal abuse with music and so on, but nothing changed. The harassment only got worse.
One day, an eighth-grade neighbor I rarely spoke to heard some of the remarks – this time, homophobic – and saw their attempts at physical intimidation, and she did not hesitate to speak up immediately. Without obscene language and violent threats, my then-14-year-old hero sternly and authoritatively demanded they leave me alone.
The two bullies let her words sink in, turned around and ceased picking on anyone – on the bus, that is.
This kind of bully prevention – having outside parties take a stance and say, “No, your bullying and cruelty are not OK. Knock it off.” – is not only commendable and necessary, but is also in the works of being implemented in United States school districts.
The Philadelphia Inquirer reported in a Nov. 14 article that an internationally implemented anti-bullying program, known as the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program, is used by dozens of schools in the Philadelphia area as well as in schools in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. The Inquirer reported that school officials, such as Marple Newtown School District Superintendent Merle Horowitz, said the initiative is making a difference in decreasing the number of bullying incidents.
“My greatest pride is when students recognize the role of the bystander – that it’s not OK to just watch,” Horowitz told the Inqurier.
The Olweus program got its start in Norway during the 1970s.
The Inquirer reported the program’s key components are, “Training the entire school staff, all students and parents to recognize and intervene in bullying; surveying students anonymously to find out where and how bullying is occurring; establishing rules and consequences, a reporting system, and enforcement; conducting frequent classroom discussions of bullying and building positive relationships among students.”
Unfortunately, the program, which both officials and studies claim yields positive results, comes at a price.
The Inquirer reported as an example that the start-up cost for a middle school with 1,000 students could be in the price range of $12,000 to $17,000.
Though it’s a one-time cost, it’s awful to think a price can be placed on a program that could better the livelihoods of primary and secondary school students in our country, especially at that range.
The National Association of School Psychologists claim bullying is the most common form of violence in our society and that between 15 percent and 30 percent of students are either bullies or victims.
A recent American Medical Association study of more than 15,000 sixth- to tenth-graders estimated that approximately 3.7 million youths engage in, and more than 3.2 million are victims of, moderate or serious bullying each year.
Those numbers should outweigh the costs of the Olweus program, but the reality is that many school districts will either not have the proper budget for such programming, or will not make anti-bullying a top agenda for a multitude of reasons.
The Inquirer said Pennsylvania and New Jersey require school districts to have anti-bullying policies and designate a person for bullying-related complaints.
A major problem here is that contemporary bully culture prohibits reporting the problem. Going to an official about the problem is out of the question because reporting isn’t looked at in the same light as political or economic whistle-blowing; if students report the problem, they are seen as “tattle-tales” who need to have the level of bullying they experience increased to teach them a lesson.
Even if students report anonymously, the bully or bullies aren’t idiots. They know who brought them the disciplinary attention.
That’s why the Olweus program is so promising: In addition to stressing the importance of reporting incidents and following up with the reports, the program’s engagement of third-party students, training of staff and parents creates an atmosphere in which bullying is less likely to occur.
It only took one kind and brave voice to call out my bullies and cease their cruelty. If schools cannot afford the Olweus program, they should make anti-bullying prevention a priority by coming up with a similar program.
Josh Fernandez can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.