A regional conference for educators this week in Webster City featured an Iowa program to deal with bullying that’s won national recognition. Deb Hill-Davis is a psychologist at Merrill Middle School in Des Moines It began with a team of 8th-grade teachers concerned about bullying incidents the previous year, and a civics teacher David O’Connor began researching what people could do as teachers about bullying. O’Connor developed a curriculum from the ideas he gathered, and the middle school put it into effect in the fall of 2003. It included a survey as well as consciousness-raising about bullying and its victims, perpetrators, and even the bystander. The teachers got an eye-opener from the program’s first phase, the survey of students in the school. Many students had experienced being bullied but even more said they’d been bystanders and didn’t know what to do — if they stood up to a bully they feared they might become the next target. Hill-Davis says a bullying-prevention hotline was set up to the Merrill counseling office and the school administration. And the counselor says parents were also recruited to play a key role. Research says you need to create a “caring community” in which bullying isn’t tolerated, and that empowers the bystanders to no longer let bullying go on without protest. A key part of that was bringing parent volunteers into the school, and the process:They were trained to be extra sets of eyes and ears, in the cafeteria, in the halls, after lunch and between classes. Hill-Davis says bullying incidents happen when students are least supervised, before and after school, on buses, at times like that. She says by training the parents to be available in a caring way, they’ve helped students feel there’s someone “there for them.” The anti-bullying curriculum won the top national award for lesson plans from the National No-Name-Calling Coalition.
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