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Leadership Insights Updated January 14, 2020

Innovative Ways Schools Are Working to Prevent and Address Bullying

By Kara Wyman, MEd December 19, 2018

It’s unfortunate but true: every school deals with cases of bullying. Cyberbullying is also a widespread issue, and many learning communities struggle with both forms of mistreatment. But some schools are testing out more innovative methods, yielding positive results here in the U.S. and abroad. Let’s look at a few examples to see what’s working and why.

Using anonymous texts to report incidents

Texting is now a way of life for many tweens and teens, so why not use it as an anonymous lifeline for those being bullied and those who witness it? “Text 2 Stop It!” is a program that allows anonymous reporting via text message. Issues are handled in real time with operators responding to texts and collecting information — even photos or videos when possible. School officials are notified and able to respond quickly.

According to a report presented by the Maryland State Department of Education, Queen Anne County Public Schools saw a 71% reduction in bullying after using “Text 2 Stop It!” for four years. “It’s an excellent investment,” says Brad Engel, the county’s Supervisor of Student Support Services. In 2013, Engel helped get the program started there, and it costs approximately one dollar per student, per year. “You got to meet the kids where they are,” explains Alvin Butler, who founded the program. 

Similar methods are being used in other states. Virginia’s Waynesboro Public Schools recently adopted the smartphone app STOPit in hopes that it will curb bullying, cyberbullying, violence, and self-harm. STOPit is also linked to Document It, a back-end report management system for administrators. “I want us to be more proactive than reactive,” says Waynesboro High School Principal, Tim Teachey.

Building community partnerships

One of the best ways to prevent and reduce instances of bullying is to try to create an environment in which all students feel safe and supported. The Faubion School, a public PreK-8 school in Portland, Oregon, provides wraparound support services through their unique 3toPhD® education model. “Faubion is lucky enough to have community partners such as the Kaiser Permanente Wellness Center, Concordia University-Portland, Basics [a Portland-based grocer], and Trillium Family Services under the umbrella of 3toPhD®,” says Kelsey Naylor, MSW, Prevention Specialist at Faubion. “These partnerships allow staff to address bullying on a systemic level, by ensuring students and their families’ mental and physical wellbeing is nurtured in the school community.”

Within the new school building, Faubion students and their families have access to Trillium’s counseling services, Kaiser’s medical and dental care services, and a food club provided by Basics, which offers lower-priced, healthy foods. So many students lack access to these services so they start their day in survival mode. Faubion’s 3toPhD® model works to change that, especially since over 80% of their students qualify for free and reduced lunch.

“When kids feel safe and cared for, they are less likely to perpetrate acts of violence and bullying,” explains Naylor. “Kids who bully are often bullied themselves in a different context; like in their home or neighborhood, or based on their race or sexual orientation. As the Faubion Prevention Specialist through Trillium Family Services, I work directly with students and their caregivers on topics such as social skills, peer relationships, self-esteem, and family systems. By addressing these aspects of a student’s life, I’m addressing the root causes of bullying and victimization behavior.”

Adopting a social-emotional learning program

Social-emotional learning (SEL) is on the rise in schools, but it’s more than a trend. If we teach students about empathyself-awareness, and restorative discussion circles, then they can learn how to effectively address issues like bullying. University of California, Los Angeles recently led a study that analyzed anti-bullying programs, examining over 7,000 students in 77 Finnish elementary schools. One of Finland’s programs stood out: KiVa. KiVa is a researched-based, anti-bullying program and its name comes from “Kiusaamista vastaan,” which means “against bullying” in Finnish, and “kiva,” which means “nice.” UCLA’s study found that the program had a strong impact on “the mental health of sixth-graders who experienced the most bullying.” KiVa includes role-playing exercises to promote empathy, as well as computer simulations to get students thinking about how they could intervene to reduce bullying.

“Our findings are the first to show that the most tormented children — those facing bullying several times a week — can be helped by teaching bystanders to be more supportive,” says Jaana Juvonen, lead author of the study and professor of psychology at UCLA. Juvonen has studied bullying for over twenty years. According to UCLA, “a recent meta-analysis of 53 anti-bullying programs worldwide found the KiVa program to be one of the most effective. The odds that a given student experienced bullying were 1.5 to nearly 2 times higher in control schools than in KiVa schools nine months after KiVa’s implementation.” Kiva has not only become Finland’s national anti-bullying program, but it has also been adopted in several other European countries and it’s being evaluated in the United States.

Additional resources

Kara Wyman earned a MEd and a BA from University of California, Santa Barbara. She spent a decade working with adolescents as an English teacher, the founder, and director of a drama program, a curriculum designer, and a project manager for a teen-centered nonprofit organization. She’s served as the Alumni and Community Manager for Concordia University-Portland and is now the managing editor of Concordia’s Room 241 blog.

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