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Taking on bullying programs
Jennifer Smith

Bullying has been a problem on playgrounds since schools were invented, and approaches to dealing with the issue keep evolving.

The Greater Littleton Youth Initiative today heard about Littleton Public Schools' latest attempt to stop the meanness, on the heels of President Obama’s White House Conference of Bullying Prevention held yesterday.

“If kids don’t know how to read, we teach them how. If kids don’t know how to swim, we teach them how. If kids don’t know how to behave, we teach them how, ideally,” said Nate Thompson, Littleton Public Schools coordinator of student support services. “The traditional model has been that we punish.”

Not so with the program the district is implementing, Positive Behavior Intervention and Support. It’s now in use in 17 LPS schools, with the goal of reaching all of them.

“It’s no secret that a priority of mine is to get into the high schools and infiltrate athletics,” said Lucinda Hundley, LPS assistant superintendent of student support services. Athletics, she said, is the last bastion of “allowable bullying.”

Different from traditional programs

PBIS is different from traditional anti-bullying programs in that it is integrated into everyday life in the schools rather than being a separate program with time out of the classroom. Core values are laid out in a way that is appealing to kids, then posted throughout the building. Students are acknowledged and rewarded for positive behavior and for calling out negative behavior in others. At Moody Elementary, for example, good behavior earns a “Rams High Five” ticket.

Traditional approaches have tended to label and exclude kids as “bullies,” blame the family or make the child apologize – methods that don’t work, according to PBIS. It emphasizes teaching social skills to all children, rewarding good behavior, individualizing strategies and investing in a positive culture throughout the school.

Thompson said the approach has resulted in a significant drop in kids being sent to the office for discipline.

Bennet introduces bill encouraging use

According to a press release from U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, the average number of suspensions in Colorado schools using PBIS dropped from 45 to 22 in three years; the state average remained virtually unchanged.

After attending yesterday’s White House conference, Bennet introduced the Achievement Through Prevention Act, which would increase implementation of PBIS.

“Students have the right to go to school in a safe learning environment where they are not subjected to fear of harassment or violence,” said Bennet.  “That’s the best way to support academic achievement for all students and create a climate where students want to learn and teachers want to teach.  As a former superintendent, I have seen first hand what a difference creating the right kind of school climate can make in school performance.”

Hundley said the LPS implementation has been funded with a federal grant, and that Denver has had to cut the program altogether due to lack of funding.

GLYI member Jim DuBose said he admires the efforts to rid schools of bullying, recalling his days in first grade.

“The playground was a lot like I envision Afghanistan today,” he said. “… Bullying has not changed one whit since 69 years ago.”

GLYI assembled in the aftermath of the Columbine tragedy in 1999. With members coming from various agencies and the community at large, its goals are to provide effective resources to youth and families.

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Points to Ponder

Do you think rewarding good behavior is more effective than punishing negative behavior?

Has your kid been bullied or been a bully? How did you cope?