An anti-bullying program started at Barron Park Elementary School last spring has improved the learning environment, administrators announced last week. Adults can better identify which students get picked on -- and which subtly urge bullies on, said Principal Cathy Howard at a community conversation at the school.
"We found a child last spring who was getting targeted by different groups. ... We've also found a child who is somehow a bystander in a lot of incidents and it turns out [the child is somehow encouraging it," she said.
About 50 parents gathered in an auditorium on Tuesday to learn about the new anti-bullying effort and provide feedback.
The main piece of the anti-bullying push is a curriculum called "Steps to Respect" designed by Seattle-based nonprofit Committee for Children, staff said. There are about 20 half-hour classroom lessons per year -- some of which corresponds to state-mandated curriculum -- and special teacher meetings with students.
"Jamie wants to play with the other kids but they're ignoring him," said second-grade teacher Arcia Dosti, explaining a sample lesson. He held up a picture of a lone child standing alongside a group.
Students talk about the situation and role play solutions to the problem of being left out, he said.
But it wasn't an epidemic of exclusionary games or lunch-money theft that triggered school officials to consider a behavioral program, Howard said.
Rather, instructors began to notice that some kids could simply stand up to negative treatment from peers better than others, she said.
"We were really struggling with why we see some kids resilient and able to stand up and let things roll off their back and some not," she said.
"We put this program into place not because we have a huge bullying problem, but because ... we wanted to give our kids tools to respond to aggression," agreed school psychologist Shirley Guich.
The curriculum's success will be measured numerically when the school releases survey results that compare student responses about bullying from this year and last.
The results should be available at the next site council meeting in November, Howard said.
The survey strives to measure a phenomenon often difficult to detect -- bullying can be nearly invisible to adults, Howard said.
"This is something that goes on under the radar. It's really subtle. Adults often don't notice," she said.
Yet absent concrete numbers, administrators are nonetheless certain the program has produced a clear change in the school atmosphere, she said.
"I feel like it's making a big difference. Kids already own up to their own mistakes and can talk about it," she said.
The key is teaching students to stand up for each other, she said.
"Eighty percent of kids are involved in bullying but they're not the bully or the victim," she said.
"To really change it, you've got to change the school climate and teach kids to step in for their peers," she said.
The "Steps to Respect" program is successful in large part due to its focus on teaching bystanders to intervene, she said.
Hoover Elementary School is also adopting the program, said Principal Suzanne Scott. Teachers were trained at a staff development day this month by Committee for Children representatives, she said.
And while Barron Park parents gathered to discuss the program, an anti-bullying presentation was taking place nearby at El Carmelo Elementary School.
"It was inspired by seeing the incredible unified and positive effort being done right now by Barron Park," said Carrie Manley, talk organizer and director of parent education for El Carmelo Elementary School and the PTA Council.
Parents from El Carmelo, Fairmeadow, Hoover and Palo Verde elementary schools were invited to a presentation about the causes of bullying and the role of bystanders by Glora Moskowitz-Sweet, outreach coordinator for nonprofit group Parents Place.
It was just such a presentation by Moskowitz-Sweet that initially sparked Barron Park to start a program.
After hearing staff concerns about student resilience, the administration worked with Moskowitz-Sweet to craft a presentation about bullying for parents last fall. Parents who saw the presentation called for the school to start a program to stop bad behavior, she said.
Yet the goal of Moskowitz-Sweet's talk at El Carmelo was not to nudge elementary schools toward adopting the "Steps to Respect" method, but rather to raise awareness, Manley said.
"The goal last night was to plant seeds of awareness," she said.
And it worked, according to anonymous feedback forms parents filled out after the meeting.
"[It made me realize how important it is to teach your kids not to be a bystander," one parent said.
"The whole community has to work together... we all have to step up," another said.