The Colorado Department of Education is renewing grant funding to expand a bullying prevention program. The program was originally started at Columbine Elementary School. Now, lessons learned through the effort could be applied across the entire Boulder Valley School District.
Two and a half years ago, Columbine Elementary applied for the first phase of grant funding and began its bullying prevention program -- not because of an epidemic of bullying -- but because they felt that it was a natural extension of the work they were already doing with students at the school.
“We value teaching kindness and this grant was a way to have access to curriculum and to talk about bullying to further strengthen this culture of kindness we want to have here,” explained Dr. Claire Thomas-Duckwitz, a licensed school psychologist and bullying prevention school coordinator.
Grant provided access to high-quality curriculum
The grant helped Columbine acquire evidence-based and bilingual Second Step social emotional learning curriculum, which provides differentiated lessons for each grade level.
“It is good for elementary schools because it teaches different skill sets in understanding emotions, recognizing emotions in others, managing emotions, understand empathy and compassion and then social problem solving skills,” said Thomas-Duckwitz.
Additionally, Columbine also implemented a bullying prevention unit developed byCommittee for Children, the non-profit behind Second Step.
“It teaches how to recognize, report, refuse bullying,” said Thomas-Duckwitz. “It helps students understand what bullying really is, because there is a lot of stuff that isn’t bullying, but it is still mean. We have to build skill sets about how to deal with things that don’t seem fair. How to manage strong emotions.”
The second phase of the grant will allow Alicia Sanchez International Elementary School and Escuela Bilingüe Pioneer to purchase curriculum that meets the needs of the individual schools.
Reporting structure not only helps identify bullying, but kindness too
As part of the grant, Columbine was required to come up with a way for students to report bullying at the school.
“We really had to not only think through what does our system of reporting look like, but more importantly, what does our responding system look like,” said Thomas-Duckwitz.
Through some trial and error, Columbine eventually placed three boxes around the school. Each has two envelopes – one is for suggestions so they could gather student input. The second envelope allows students to report bullying or kindness.
“We have it on the same piece of paper, because then kids won’t know if they are reporting kindness or reporting bullying. That way they’ve got some protection,” explained Thomas-Duckwitz.
The school also set up an online form, so that anyone in the school community – even a neighbor could report an incident to school personnel.
“If they see it happen while kids are walking home, they may not know names, but they could give a description and report it online,” said Thomas-Duckwitz.
They have also worked to increase the mental health and disciplinary needs, as well as encouraging students to stand up for others – even if it doesn’t feel comfortable.
“We explain that if you report it anonymously, that is probably the lowest risk. The highest risk is you confronting a group of people. That is hard to do. We have to be understanding of how hard that is to do. The middle ground might be, if you see someone being picked on, you don’t have to confront people – you can report it later and you can ask the kid if they want to sit with you at lunch or play with you at recess,” said Thomas-Duckwitz.
An intentional, community-wide effort
Building a community of kindness and preventing bullying is something that takes the entire community working together.
“We are all responsible together for raising children,” said Thomas-Duckwitz. “A big part of this is building trust with students and families.”
Beyond training for staff and educational efforts with students, Columbine has worked to inform and engage families.
“You have to be intentional. I don’t think there is a way to make this work, unless there is a time carved out and allotted to addressing it. Otherwise, people aren’t educated and responding in a way that in consistent with responding to bullying,” said Thomas-Duckwitz.
Most BVSD schools offer some type of bullying prevention programming like Bully-Proofing Your School, No Place for Hate, Lion’s Quests and Share Our Strength.
Connect with your child’s school to learn more about their specific efforts.
What is Bullying?
Bullying is unwanted, aggressive behavior among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time. Both kids who are bullied and who bully others may have serious, lasting problems.
Signs a Child Is Being Bullied
Look for changes in the child. However, be aware that not all children who are bullied exhibit warning signs.
Some signs that may point to a bullying problem are:
-Lost or destroyed clothing, books, electronics, or jewelry
-Frequent headaches or stomach aches, feeling sick or faking illness
-Changes in eating habits, like suddenly skipping meals or binge eating. Kids may come home from school hungry because they did not eat lunch.
-Difficulty sleeping or frequent nightmares
-Declining grades, loss of interest in schoolwork, or not wanting to go to school
-Sudden loss of friends or avoidance of social situations
-Feelings of helplessness or decreased self esteem
-Self-destructive behaviors such as running away from home, harming themselves, or talking about suicide
If you know someone in serious distress or danger, don’t ignore the problem. Get help right away.
Parents, school staff, and other caring adults have a role to play in preventing bullying. They can:
-Help kids understand bullying. Talk about what bullying is and how to stand up to it safely. Tell kids bullying is unacceptable. Make sure kids know how to get help.
-Keep the lines of communication open. Check in with kids often. Listen to them. Know their friends, ask about school, and understand their concerns.
-Encourage kids to do what they love. Special activities, interests, and hobbies can boost confidence, help kids make friends, and protect them from bullying behavior.
-Model how to treat others with kindness and respect.