Stand Up ND: Anti-Bullying Remarkable Efforts.
Bullying is a complex problem with many different causes. It’s defined as aggression that is habitual and that involves a power imbalance. Today the Stand Up ND project begins a series of stories looking at what people across North Dakota are doing to reduce bullying. In this first story Meg Luther Lindholm visits with the mayor of Grand Forks, who is spearheading an effort to tackle bullying and other forms of violence.
Last June mayors from around the country gathered at their annual conference in Dallas. In addition to the usual business, there was something new on the agenda. It was a request that each mayor take a pledge not just to reduce but to end bullying in his or her city. So far over 170 mayors around the country have taken the pledge. But that group includes only one mayor from North Dakota. That’s Grand Forks mayor Michael Brown. He says the pledge sends an important message.
MB: Bullying is wrong. Bullying is destructive; it’s maladaptive. It has consequences you can’t see. And it’s important that you educate your community and your children to make positive choices.
Some might argue that taking a pledge to end bullying is just paying lip service to a very complex problem. I asked the mayor why he thinks taking a pledge can make a difference.
MB: You’re standing up, and I think that’s very important for the community that we do take the responsibility as elected officials where we think our community should go. And I think as elected officials I think one of our primary responsibilities is to our young people.
The mayor’s pledge really isn’t anything new. It builds on work that has been going on for awhile. Several years ago the crime rate in Grand Forks was high. So high that the city leaders wanted to join forces to do something about it. And so a wide-ranging group of organizations formed a coalition and applied for a huge federal grant to tackle the problem of violence.
MB: …and it goes all the way from law enforcements, to Lutheran Social Services, to school—everybody’s on board, everybody’s on part of the team. And we all have one goal: that’s to make sure our children grow into positive adults .
They got 2 million dollars of federal money and with it they created several anti-violence programs and called them Safer Tomorrows. The goal is to reduce violence where it happens—in homes, around the city, and in schools.
Dan Olweus: I think its important to realize that bullying is not a conflict but is a form of peer abuse.
That Norwegian accent belongs to Dr. Dan Olweus, a psychology professor who spent over 30 years researching bullying with the goal of putting his research to use in schools.
DO: It’s basically a fundamental human right for a student to feel safe at school and be spared this kind of repeated humiliation that is implied in bullying.
The Olweus Program, named for him, is considered by many educators to be the gold standard for school programs that address bullying. And so school leaders in Grand Forks chose it and implemented it in every elementary and middle school, not just in the district, but in Grand Forks County. Every staff member at school is trained to know what to do when there’s an incident of bullying.
Sarah Shimek: So that means custodial staff, kitchen staff, administrators, teachers.
Sarah Shimek is an Olweus trainer.
SS: Everyone is trained in the language and how to identify a bullying situation if you witness it and what to do when you actually do witness it and what to do when you get an incident reported to you that you have not seen.
The other part of the Olweus Program brings students together to talk in small groups. Once a week, usually during homeroom, students sit in a circle and talk about topics that affect them personally. Like peer pressure that can lead to doing things they don’t want to do. Or how kids can so easily reject each other because of differences. And what middle school kid doesn’t feel different in some way? The goal is to break down barriers that can lead to social rejection or bullying.
SS: Because we know that when we learn more about each other and our differences, that we’re less likely to make fun of each other because that fear isn’t there.
The jury is still out in on whether bullying incidents have decreased since the Olweus Program was implemented. But the city did just receive additional funding to continue Safer Tomorrows. Which means the work of trying to put an end to bullying can continue.