Dealing with school bullies: JPS uses a variety of tools in efforts to end bullying in schoolsEvery public school in Jamestown has some type of policy in place to combat bullying, some a lot more than others. A recent report issued by Jamestown Public Schools details what exactly is done in every building. Some schools’ programs are more in-depth than others but generally the material all relates to building a positive culture in each building, said JPS Superintendent Bob Toso.
By: Ben Rodgers, The Jamestown Sun
Every public school in Jamestown has some type of policy in place to combat bullying, some a lot more than others. A recent report issued by Jamestown Public Schools details what exactly is done in every building.
Some schools’ programs are more in-depth than others but generally the material all relates to building a positive culture in each building, said JPS Superintendent Bob Toso.
“Different schools have different needs, different principals have different beliefs,” Toso said. “The programs aren’t exactly the same, but they all do the same thing, which is trying to teach kids the proper way to act, how to treat each other with respect — those core fundamentals.”
Jamestown Public School Board member Roger Haut wants to adopt the Olweus anti-bullying program in all schools.
“It’s the only research-based bullying prevention program,” Toso said.
Olweus, which is a district-wide program, is designed to create a noncorrosive school atmosphere. This is done in part by creating a counseling environment between teachers and students and students and students.
If adopted by the district, Olweus would replace a great deal of what the district currently does for bullying prevention, Toso said.
Although the programs aren’t identical across JPS, what is taught is, he said.
“What the counselors do in the elementary schools is consistent across the district,” Toso said. “We do have a consistent program in place on what they teach from K-5.”
Haut said he wanted to see the same program in all grade levels, not just elementary.
“It has to be district wide to be effective, because if you don’t have it in the entire district it’s going to be a loss of resources,” he said, “because if you do it in one school, once they get to the middle school they’re going to lose it because the middle school hasn’t been educated on the program.”
Haut also called Olweus “the best program out there” with “proven results.”
“We don’t have seven districts — we have one district,” Haut said at a Sept. 4 School Board meeting. “I think we as a board need to look at a unified program for our entire district.”
Every school in the district requires staff to take online training called SafeSchools, but other than that not much is truly unified.
Lincoln Elementary has the most programs in place and is the only school in the district to be classified as Response to Intervention — Behavior, otherwise called Positive Behavior Support.
“We chose to be proactive, we didn’t necessarily see a huge problem,” said Sherry Schmidt, Lincoln principal. “We just thought, how can we do proactive? How can we make our place better? How can we handle this as a Lincoln community?”
For RTI-B, Lincoln has a list of expectations for all facets of the school from the music room to field trips.
“It’s just our belief here that we would promote positive behaviors at our school,” Schmidt said of the different programs at Lincoln.
Lincoln also is the only school in the district that currently uses the Olweus program. It’s in the early stages and it could take two years before total implementation. Some teachers at the school underwent a first round of training during the summer.
With bullying prevention, most of the work done at the elementary level is preventative, while at the middle school and high school levels more of the focus is on implementation.
All elementary schools have a two-year rotating curriculum where the focus is on lessons to teach about bullying and getting along with people.
“We do have national standards that we have to abide by as far as what is taught,” said Donette Rasmussen, guidance department chair for JPS.
However it’s up to each school and the administrators there to try and meet those benchmarks and standards, she said. A district-wide approach with Olweus could work here if done correctly, Rasmussen said.
“Our district has a history of implementing a lot of programs and then when the money runs out they’re dropped,” she said. “I think that would be a fear of a lot of people — is it something that would be important enough to invest in for a period of time?” she said of Olweus.
Rasmussen and the other guidance counselors work with students in all grade levels, in the classroom, and in small groups or individually.
“I would like to see us implement what we’ve got better, rather than take on something totally new unless we find what we’re doing, we’re implementing, is to the best of our ability and it’s still not working,” she said. “I would like to see us do a better job of what we got already.”
Valerie Fischer, director of school health for the North Dakota Department of Instruction, said Jamestown as a district has been active to prevent bullying.
“Jamestown has worked very hard on bullying and they started to look at a policy and program long before the Legislature made it required,” Fischer said.
During the last session a bill was passed that requires districts to have bullying prevention policy in place.
Strong parent and community support also have positive roles here, she said.
Many districts in the state have also adopted the Olweus program, but it requires an intensive district-wide approach.
“Everybody really needs to be trained to understand the basics of it, and then you have the consistency across the grades and across the schools,” Fischer said.
Fischer advocates that schools use anti-bullying programs that are research or evidence based.
Programs already in place in the district that are research or evidence based include Love and Logic, Nurtured Heart Approach, WhyTry, Capturing Kids Hearts, Rachel’s Challenge and choice or reality therapy.
“Generally speaking programs that schools and counselors use try to talk about students taking responsibility for their actions,” Toso said.
Those programs also look for students to fix problems with appropriate behavior, instead of bullying or fighting, he said.
“I think everybody brings to the table different ideas and thoughts and you have to hear those and put those somewhere on the table,” Fischer said. “… Look at each culture and climate and make adaptions.”
She said Jamestown has “an incredible opportunity” if it adopts Olweus.
However, school officials here worry what would happen at each building if a program was deemed mandatory.
“If the (school) board were to mandate a program on any subject I think it would be pushed back from administration and teachers,” Toso said, of implementation.
Rasmussen said there’s nothing wrong with the policies in place, but instead the issue is implementation of those policies.
“I do think you are going to get a lot of resistance because they’ve been trained in all of those (programs and policies), and a lot of those programs took a lot of training and a lot of time,” she said.
Sun reporter Ben Rodgers can be reached at 701-952-8455 or by email at email@example.com