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School promotes anti-bullying

Defense against 'a culture of cruel'

Steamboat Springs Middle School students mingled Friday in the bleachers of Gardner Field as they traded red, white or blue bracelets.

Students walked up to one another asking names, grades and one interesting fact as a part of the school’s no-bullying program.

“We’re learning to respect other people in other grades,” said eighth-grader Hannah Zittel, wearing three different-colored bracelets, one representing each grade.

As the students were picking up the remnants of their lunches, a group of sixth-graders explained what they had just learned from the hour-long assembly on anti-bullying.

“One in four kids get bullied; one in five are bullies,” Ryan Coe said.

“There are over 160,000 students every month that stay home from school because they’re bullied,” said Matt Lettunich, another sixth-grader.

These students were quoting many of the same statistics Surgeon General David Satcher and Colorado Attorney General Ken Salazar gave when they helped launched the Colorado Anti-Bully Project Wednesday.

In the years since the shootings at Columbine High School, decreasing bullying has been a hot topic in promoting safe school environments. Claiming that bullying can lead to school violence, unsafe schools and low academic achievement, the Colorado project aims to heighten awareness of the bullying issue

Salazar and Professor Delbert Elliott, a youth violence prevention expert at the University of Colorado, began to work on the project shortly after two Columbine High School students killed 12 classmates and a teacher in 1999.

“A lot of efforts have come out of Columbine. It did bring people together to address issues of safe communities,” said Joan Padilla, a spokeswoman for the state Attorney General’s office.

Earlier this year, the state Legislature adopted the Colorado Bully Prevention Law, which requires all school districts to include specific policies in conduct and discipline codes on how it disciplines bullies and implements programs on bullying prevention. The law requires that information be submitted to the Colorado Department of Education and available to the public.

But middle school Principal Tim Bishop said his school is ahead of the curve in setting up programs and policies to prevent bullying. Friday’s assembly which had teachers performing skits on how to react to bullies, showed clips from movies on different kinds of bullying and had students reading a Declaration of Independence from Bullying was the largest and most inclusive no-bullying program the school has ever done.

“We want to stop it completely to make students feel better about coming to school every morning,” Bishop said.

As teachers acted out three different kinds of bullying, physical, social and emotional, their emphasis was on neither the bully nor the victim. The teachers on the school’s no-bullying committee said one of their main goals was to encourage the majority of the student body, which is not involved in the bullying, to stop it.

“The nature of bullying means there is an imbalance of power where the victim never wins,” teacher Sally Howard said. “We want the 85 to 95 percent of the school population that sees and hears the bullying to then report it.”

Lisa Ruff said their program dispels the myths of bullying to students, parents and teachers. One of the biggest myths, Ruff said, is that bullies have low self-esteem and are on the outside of social groups.

“We are finding that bullies are very well-connected socially and have a very high self-esteem. They use their social skills, intellectual skills to create a culture of cruel,” she said.

Padilla said the goal of the Colorado Anti-Bullying Project is to provide information.

“This particularly is awareness, is education, as to what are the facts vs. the myths, what are some resources people don’t know where to turn,” she said.

Part of the statewide awareness program, which is also sponsored by CU, The Denver Post, KUSA 9News and Coca-Cola, is a 30-second TV spot that urges viewers to get involved in preventing bullying. It also directs callers to a statewide toll-free information line, (866) NO-BULLY, and a Web site at no-bully.com.

“We want to raise awareness in Colorado about the prevalence, characteristics and issues involved in bullying situations,” Salazar said. “Through this effort, we want to provide parents, young people and educators a place where they can get information about ways to address and prevent bullying.”

Some of that information includes getting out statistics like 7 percent of eighth-graders stay home at least once a month because of bullies and that most bullying begins in elementary school.

For the small group of sixth-grade boys finishing up their lunch Friday afternoon, they admitted they had both been bullied and were bullies in the past. Although Coe and Lettunich said physical violence is not a major concern, they pointed to other forms of bullying like spreading rumors, teasing and, as Lettunich, said, “being really extra rude.”

Although bullying begins in the elementary school, the teachers said it escalates in middle school and becomes more dangerous throughout the high school years.

For the past two years, bullying programs have been implemented in the middle school, where researchers say it reaches its apex.

Though students have gone to assemblies and eighth-graders have participated in Challenge Day, where they are encourage to share feelings with other students, Bishop said it is still too early to tell how effective the school has been.

“(The program) has to be in place for several years before we get a handle on it,” Bishop said. “To stop it, that can’t happen in one year, but we’re ahead of the curve.”

Teachers on the committee said one of the main ways to stop bullying is getting the community involved. That is one of the reasons parents were invited to Friday’s assembly to learn about ways they could prevent bullying.

“Our schools are only as safe as our families are,” said teacher Ginny Fry, who attended the state conference Wednesday.

To reach Christine Metz call 871-4229

or e-mail cmetz@steamboatpilot.com


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