The topic of bullying has been a part of the national conversation since the Columbine High School shooting nearly 15 years ago, but some schools still aren’t effectively dealing with the issue that has sadly defined everyday life in and out of class for far too many youngsters.
Even though national counselors talk up approaches such as conflict resolution and tolerance, the CDC recently reported during the 2009-2010 school year 23 percent of public schools reported bullying occurred among students on a daily or weekly basis. A higher percentage of middle school students reported being bullied than high school students.
It’s the latter statistic that five years ago led Avon Middle School Principal Dr. Craig Koehler to enlist the services of an outside organization to change the culture of his student body.
However, the most common anti-bullying technique involved a one-and-done student assembly. Koehler wanted something systematic and comprehensive. That’s when he came across Campus Impact, which makes monthly visits to schools to speak to kids about everything from bullying, respect, sexting prevention and cyber bullying prevention to dating violence and internet safety.
As far as bullying is concerned, Avon Middle School students are learning about conflict resolution, peacemaking, cooperation and tolerance.
“At a school with 700 seventh and eigth graders, you can only imagine what could happen in a negative way,” Koehler told VOXXI. “We hardly have any bullying here. Campus Impact comes in once a month with a theme and they do a fabulous job. I can tell when it’s time for them to come back. It’s almost like the booster shots have worn off. It’s one [instructor] in the classroom with the teacher supervising. And it works. I can see it in the reduction of problems as far as bullying in our school.”
Naturally such a program comes with a steep cost that ranges annually from $16,000 to $19,000.
“A lot of times you’ll hear districts say we can’t afford that, but to me the expense is the cost of doing business,” Koehler said.
Campus Impact President/CEO Todd Walts told VOXXI his organization sends presenters into roughly a dozen districts a year. Something Walts said is becoming obvious is before the bullying issue can be properly dealt with, educators and parents need to understand conflict resolution.
“Over the last year, we’ve recognized that there is too much behavior being reported as bullying when there is truly a conflict,” Walts said. “It just exasperates the whole bullying issue.”Basically, with bullying behavior there is an imbalance of power. If that’s missing, then it’s simply a conflict between two equal peers.
“Peacemaking, tolerance, accepting people even if they’re different from you, that’s all a part of appropriate conflict resolution,” Walts said. “We help encourage students to look for what we have in common and let’s explore those areas.”
Where Campus Impact is on the cutting edge is the use of its self-produced video resources utilized via the Internet by more than two dozen school districts nationwide to initiate discussions with students and process conflict and bullying issues. The on-demand educational videos are available not only for use in classrooms but also for parents and families at home.
“One way we’re recommending the schools utilize these subscriptions is that when a student gets in trouble, use it as an alternative to discipline,” Walts said. “Instead of just punishing them and kicking them out of school, they have to watch these discussion starters and process through the worksheets with their parents at home to change that student’s behavior. Parents don’t want their kids out of school, so if we can provide a way that will get them back in school earlier, then that’s helpful for everybody.”
While there are some districts taking a proactive approach to solving bullying or conflict resolution issues, Walts said overall American schools are failing students in need.
“There are a number of districts doing a great job, but I still know there are quite a few districts who almost ignore the issues or really just don’t address it at all,” Walts said. “I think we still have a long way to go.”