Nov. 12, 2012
By Misty Volaski
Bullies beware — Ojai is going to get tough on you.
The Olweus Bullying Prevention Program, which has been started at Topa Topa, Meiners Oaks and San Antonio elementary schools, gives school employees and students a glimpse of many of the forms bullying can take and tools to prevent it.
Although all campuses within the Ojai Unified School District have anti-bullying education programs, superintendent Hank Bangser said the Olweus program goes more in depth. It breaks down bullying into four levels — school, classroom, individual and community — and extends education to students, teachers and other faculty members, as well as to parents and guardians.
Bullying, according to the Olweus website, occurs when a person “is exposed, repeatedly and over time, to negative actions on the part of one or more other persons, and he or she has difficulty defending himself or herself.”
This can be in person, online or through text messages, and can be physical or mental.
These days, bullying is increasingly a “psychological confrontation,” said Jeanine Murphy, clinical supervisor with the Ojai Unified School District’s counseling program. The stereotypical bullying situation — like fights on the playground — are much more rare. “There’s been an increase in the use of technology,” Murphy said. “As time goes on, the students are becoming more and more tech savvy. And it’s our job to learn quickly how that technology really enhances or creates negative interactions between students.”
Teachers regularly set aside classroom time to discuss bullying, create skits and demonstrations to further students’ anti-bullying education and identify the warning signs that a student is being bullied, and what they can do about it.
“It can be pulling away from a regular group of friends,” Murphy said, “or not wanting go out as much, not answering questions as much in class — in general withdrawing symptoms. It can also present itself as anger.” The best way for parents to identify possible problems, she added, is to simply pay attention to their child and keep asking questions. Maintain an open dialogue, she suggested, and look for any withdrawal or anger problems.
Once a bullying victim has been identified, adults address the situation through one-on-one support, such as through the OUSD’s counseling program.
Bangser said the OUSD has a strict zero-tolerance policy concerning bullying. Warnings, then suspensions and even expulsions will result once a bully has been identified. “We deal with it immediately, in a fair but direct way,” he said.
Another big thing Olweus addresses is an aspect of bullying that, up until recently, has largely been ignored: the effect of the bystander.
“Students are learning how their role as a bystander can change the situation,” said Emily Mostovoy, OUSD director of special education and student services. “Maybe they (the bystander) aren’t saying something, but they’re still a participant.” Just by saying to a bully, “Hey, that’s not cool,” or “Hey, leave them alone,” Mostovoy said, it can break the bullying cycle. Students are learning “how the shift of power can look when another student supports the victim.”
“I truly believe that one student can make a positive change,” Murphy said. “It can take that one voice to change the whole dynamic.”
The Olweus program uses evidence-based research — 35 years’ worth — to create specific strategies for reducing bullying. According to the Olweus website, the program’s benefits extend beyond the realm of bullying. Evaluations of 40,000 students found that, after participating in the Olweus program, there had been a 20- to 70-percent reduction in student reports of bullying, as well as “significant reductions” of vandalism, fighting, theft, truancy and significant improvements toward schoolwork and school in general.
The OUSD is gathering student input on the program through questionnaires, which will be processed by the Olweus administrators and submitted back to the schools. It will help identify where students feel the “hotspots” are for bullying — such as in social media, at the Ojai Skate Park, in the locker room, etc., and in certain social and school situations — and help change the culture of the school to diminish harmful interactions. “I’m optimistic that that’s what is going to happen,” Bangser said.
Visit www.olweus.org for more information on the program and for additional resources.
Nov. 12, 2012