Pilot program challenges bullying perceptions

Every parent wants their child to have a fighting chance at doing well at school. That shouldn’t include worrying about bullies.

Every parent wants their child to have a fighting chance at doing well at school. That shouldn’t include worrying about bullies.

An anti-bullying pilot project, funded through Ponoka’s Family and Community Support Services (FCSS), is being rolled out to two schools in the Wolf Creek School Division (WCPS): Crestomere School and Mecca Glen School.

Committees from each school composed of parents, teachers and administrators, were selected to be part of the training intended to reduce bullying. Presenting the program was Karen Kondor, bullying prevention educator with Find Your Voice.

She is training the committees with the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program developed in Norway, which is intended to change people’s perceptions on bullying. Kondor has received many questions on how best to deal with cyber bullying but the issue is part of a greater problem.

“It’s such unfamiliar territory with many adults,” she said.

The program has only started making its way into Canada and Kondor believes there will be positive results from the experience.

“Schools like Crestomere and Mecca Glen are on the leading edge of bullying prevention in Canada,” she explained. “They need to be very proud of that.”

Most anti-bullying based programs follow a curriculum but Olweus is a long-term commitment. The schools will operate under the umbrella of the program that will eventually become part of students’ culture, she added.

Implementing the program in the first year is not cheap, the cost is approximately $8,000 to $10,000 per school but there is a long-term financial benefit.

She referred to a Philadelphia study on the benefits. “If a school can prevent two children from the leaving the school as a result of bullying, that revenue for those two kids will more than offset the cost for the implementation of the program.”

RCMP Staff Sgt. Cameron Chisholm helped start the program through his membership with the Rotary Club of Ponoka. There was a $6,340 grant to the club from FCSS, who recommended Mecca Glen and Crestomere as the pilot schools. Chisholm does not feel the cost of the program is as much as others.

“It’s not an expensive program yet it encompasses the whole community and that’s something that is beneficial to the success of eliminating the problem,” explained Chisholm.

Implementing the program across the school district is something superintendent Larry Jacobs will evaluate with the principals. He is going to ask how they see the program unfolding and what are some of the speed bumps to getting it running. “I’m going to ask them to give me a summation report… Even if it’s qualitative.”

Students will be also be surveyed on the program to help WCPS’s decision. An initial survey will be held in October and again in October, 2014. Jacobs feels there are many potential benefits for the school division and Alberta Education has seen a need to reduce bullying. “This is probably one of the few (programs) though that has an organization behind it. A lot of them are kind of drive-by ideas.”

“The province as a whole has got to look into it,” he added.

Penny Mueller, Crestomere School principal, embraces the program and looks forward to the challenge of implementation this year. She has already seen a change in her perception of what bullying is. “There’s a common misconception that people are bullied because of a lack of self-esteem.”

Another misconception is that people who are loners are bullied but that is also not necessarily the case, she added.

“Today has brought an understanding that, when we look at our policy, we’re doing some pretty good things but there’s stuff that we can still improve on and that’s great,” explained Mueller.

She looks forward to seeing changes in people’s perceptions of what bullying is and a reduction of the problem in the next few years.

Olweus has been used for the last 30 years and every school in Norway has implemented the program; after school programs are also starting to use it. Depending on how each school uses Olweus, there has been a 30 to 70 per cent reduction in bullying, said Kondor.

Chisholm says the new school resource officer will need to be aware of the program and will uphold the initiative.