Rave reviews for Worcester Public Schools’ anti-bullying program!

By John Monfredo, Worcester School Committee

“I just want the bullying to stop. That is all I ever wanted. I used to love going to school. Now I hate it.”
(9-year-old Verity Ward quoted in the Sunday Telegraph, 12 March 2000)

Throughout my career as a former principal and teacher I have witnessed bullying take place in and out of school. “Bullying is unfair and one-sided. It happens when someone keeps hurting, frightening, threatening, or leaving someone out on purpose.”

The issue of bullying and its effect on children has finally been recognized. As a principal, year ago, I saw bullying first hand and saw how it affected students. I remember seeing a little girl crying in the corner of the school yard because she was told by one of her classmates that she wasn’t allowed to play with them and other classmates because they didn’t like the way she dressed. Then there was a boy who wasn’t picked to play with the other boys on their football team at recess time because he couldn’t speak English.

The effects of bullying don’t stop there, – bullying can hurt children other than the victims. Studies have shown that children who witness bullying may be afraid to go to school, too. They worry that a minor mistake may make them the bully’s focus. Or they may start bullying others, figuring that siding with the aggressor will keep them safer.

These are just a few of the many examples that happen in school where students are victims of bullying. We need to teach children to be civil and kind to one another, if we are to have a caring community.

Thus, when I retired as a principal and ran for Worcester School Committee bullying was one of my most important agenda items. Several years ago, I worked with former State Senator Ed Augustus in attempting to get a state-wide law on bullying passed. It passed in the Senate but failed in the House. It was not until two deaths occurred by suicide did a law finally pass. Now, you can’t pick up a newspaper without reading about an incident that involves some form of bullying.
We know that in order for children to learn and thrive in school, they need to feel safe both psychologically and physically. This cannot happen when they are subject to constant bullying, which is why I have made it a priority to promote steps to eradicate this problem.

For some children bullying is a fact of life that they are told to accept or toughen up. It is a part of growing up. This is wrong, for being bullied can have long-term negative impacts on all involved. Bullying often leads to more violence. Not only does it harm its intended victims, but it also negatively affects the climate of the school and the opportunities for all students to learn and achieve in school.

The Worcester Public Schools have been ahead of the curve for through the leadership of Colleen O’Brian, director of health, physical education and athletics, the Worcester Public Schools have trained a number of schools with a program entitled, “Steps to Respect.” The program comes from the Committee for Children located in Seattle, Washington. It’s a non-profit organization seeking to improve children’s lives by providing research-based violence prevention, anti-bullying, and child abuse prevention programs for schools and families. In addition, School Safety Director Robert Pezzella has initiated a number of seminars on the issue of bullying, bringing in the District Attorney’s office, along with Dr. Elizabeth Englander, professor from Bridgewater State College and considered an expert in bullying and aggression for teacher training on cyber-bullying.

As required by the Massachusetts new law, each school district was to submit a much need plan to combat the issue of bullying by December 31 of 2010. Elementary and Secondary Education Commissioner Chester in discussing the plans to be submitted stated, “Successful anti-bullying measures will result from a whole – school approach and prevention plans should force school leaders to be pro-active in teaching students to be civil to one another and in promoting understanding of and respect for diversity and difference.”

The Worcester Public Schools’ plan was approved last month by the School Committee, and it is a well thought-out plan that deals with this issue. The plan issued a Statement of Purpose, and made it perfectly clear that this public school system will not tolerate any form of bullying.

The purpose is stated as follows:

The Worcester Public Schools Bullying Prevention and Intervention Plan is a comprehensive approach to addressing bullying and cyber-bullying. Worcester Public Schools are committed to working with students, staff, families, law enforcement agencies, and the community to prevent issues of violence. In consultation with these constituencies, we have established this Plan for preventing, intervening, and responding to incidents of bullying, cyber-bullying, and retaliation. The district takes seriously its responsibility for the implementation of the Plan to ensure students are safeguarded from bullying.
The district is committed to providing all students with a safe learning environment that is free from in-person bullying and cyber-bullying. This commitment is an integral part of our comprehensive efforts to promote learning, and to prevent and eliminate all forms of bullying and other harmful and disruptive behavior that can impede the learning process and outstanding results for all students

The Worcester Public Schools will not tolerate any unlawful or disruptive behavior, including any form of bullying, cyber-bullying, or retaliation, in Worcester Public Schools buildings, on school grounds, or in school-related activities. We will investigate all reports and complaints of bullying, cyber-bullying, and retaliation, and take immediate action to end bullying behavior and restore the victim’s sense of safety. We will support this commitment in all aspects of our school community, the curriculum, instructional programs, staff development, and extracurricular activities, and engage parents/guardians to support bullying prevention.

The keys to the success of this plan will be in the training of ALL staff members, leadership in all schools, communication to all students about what constitutes bullying and researched based prevention programs. The success of Worcester’s program will be measured by how well we prevent bullying for the important work of changing school climate is what’s ahead of us.

Having said that administration has a roll out plan starting this month to put the plan into action.
First, a flyer will be sent home with every student outlining tips on what to do if your child is being bullied- tips and on what to do if your child is bullying others. This flyer will contain additional Educational Links as well as the Hot Line Number and E-Mail Address for reporting incidents of bullying. The Hotline Telephone Number (508) 799-3472 and the E-Mail:

reportbullying@worc.k12.ma.us.

Taking nothing for chance, the translation of materials on bullying will be in five major languages. The distribution of materials will also be made to CPAC, Site Councils, PIC (parent information center, and Special Ed. and PAC.

In addition, our Chief Academic Officer, Dr. Jeff Mulqueen, will send a Connect Ed message informing parents/guardians and students of Worcester Public Schools of the new Bullying Prevention and Intervention Plan along with internet location of the plan. Principals will also address the contents of the new law and the Worcester Public Schools anti-bullying plan to their students and staff.

February will continue to be a busy month in the implementation of this plan for the Schools will implement a “train the trainer” model for Principals, Assistant Principals, Head Counselors, School Adjustment Counselors and Health Teachers and a DVD development (20 to 30 minutes) for all staff training will take place. Also, the Safe and Secure Learning Environment Committee (SSLEC) consisting of Administrators Robert Pezzella, Colleen O’Brien, Judith Thompson, Mark Berthiaume and Lisa Dyer, will invite participation for representation to Principals, Teachers, Parent/Guardians and Students to help develop resources for parents/guardians such as: a flyer which contains definitions, a student section of the plan and the district safety internet policy. This information will be disseminated both in hard copy and electronically.

In addition, during this month through June, the following will take place.

• The Safe and Secure Learning Environment Committee (SSLE) will identify and publish a calendar of parent information meetings at individual schools.

• Professional Development through viewing of the DVD will be presented by formerly trained school teams during the faculty meeting to all teachers, instructional assistants, cafeteria workers, itinerant staff and support staff. The Bullying Prevention and Intervention Plan can also be viewed on Channel 11.

• Athletic Coaches will be trained in March, August and November annually about the plan.

• The custodial staff, Secretarial and newly hired staff will be required to view the DVD training on the internet and print out a certificate of completion. Henceforth, all Worcester Public Schools Staff will receive annual written notices of policy for Bullying Prevention and Intervention through the Superintendent’s Bulletin and will repeat viewing of DVD training.

What I like about this plan and one that I have been a strong advocate for is its prevention piece. We need to do all that we can to prevent bullying through education. The Worcester Public School plan calls for such action!

As Dr. Jeff Mulqueen, Chief Academic Officer of the Worcester Public Schools, acknowledged “Our elementary schools use evidence-based curricula that includes Second Step in grades 1-3 and Steps to Respect in grades 4-6… anti-bullying is also addressed at the secondary level for certified health teachers use Aggressors, Victim, and Bystanders: Thinking and Acting to Prevent Violence as a teaching tool in the Middle School health curriculum. Students develop problem-solving skills and new ways to respond. Anti-bullying is also part of the high school comprehensive health curriculum. The Violence Prevention Curriculum for Adolescents is used to support students’ development of alternative strategies leading to positive outcomes when involved in conflict.”

In addition, classroom teachers remain in the classroom when these classes are being taught to co-facilitate and reinforce the lessons throughout the week. These same health teachers will provide resources for all Kindergarten teachers from the Second Step program.

The District Attorney’s office will also provide workshops to students regarding bullying at other grade levels. They will help students understand the dynamics of bullying and cyber bullying by emphasizing cyber safety, including safe and appropriate use of electronic communication technologies.
The Worcester Public Schools recognize the significance of this law and will provide effective instruction including classroom approaches and whole school initiatives with focused strategies for bullying prevention and social skills development. This will ensure that all students in grades K-12 will receive age-appropriate instruction.

Research supports the fact that school-based prevention programs can decrease bullying. Schools with the largest reduction in bullying were those that thoroughly and consistently implemented programs using a whole-school approach. This plan is most thorough and it takes into account the need to get everyone on board about the importance of understanding the bullying law and the plan of the Worcester Public Schools. The law has been a long time in coming but now it’s here and everyone needs to understand just what bullying is all about and how to stop it. Bullying prevention should be woven into the entire school environment in order to impact the school.

The Worcester Public Schools includes a statement prohibiting bullying, cyber-bullying, and retaliation in this plan and in the student code of conduct, the student handbook, and the Superintendent’s Bulletin.

Acts of bullying, which include cyber bullying, are prohibited:

(i) on school grounds and property immediately adjacent to school grounds, at a school-sponsored or school-¬related activity, function, or program whether on or off school grounds, at a school bus stop, on a school bus or other vehicle owned, leased, or used by a school district or school; or through the use of technology or an electronic device owned, leased, or used by a school district or school, and

(ii) at a location, activity, function, or program that is not school-¬related through the use of technology or an electronic device that is not owned, leased, or used by a school district or school, if the acts create a hostile environment at school for the victim or witnesses, infringe on their rights at school, or materially and substantially disrupt the education process or the orderly operation of a school.

Retaliation against a person who reports bullying, provides information during an investigation of bullying, or witnesses or has reliable information about bullying is also prohibited.

Several of the following definitions are copied directly from Mass. General Laws as noted below. Worcester Public Schools has not altered their meaning or scope.

Aggressor is a student who engages in bullying, cyber-bullying, or retaliation.

Bullying, as defined in M.G.L. c. 71, § 37O, is the repeated use by one or more students of a written, verbal, or electronic expression or a physical act or gesture or any combination thereof, directed at a target that:

i. causes physical or emotional harm to the victim or damage to the victim’s property?

ii. places the target in reasonable fear of harm to himself or herself or of damage to his or her property?
iii. creates a hostile environment at school for the victim?

iv. infringes on the rights of the victim at school? or

v. materially and substantially disrupts the education process or the orderly operation of a school. Bullying shall include cyber bullying.

Cyber¬-bullying, is bullying through the use of technology or electronic devices such as telephones, cell phones, computers, and the Internet. It includes, but is not limited to, email, instant messages, text messages, and Internet postings. See M.G.L. c. 71, § 37O for the legal definition of cyber bullying.

Hostile environment, as defined in M.G.L. c. 71, § 37O, is a situation in which bullying causes the school environment to be permeated with intimidation, ridicule, or insult that is sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of a student’s education.

Retaliation is any form of intimidation, reprisal, or harassment directed against a student who reports bullying, provides information during an investigation of bullying, or witnesses or has reliable information about bullying.

Staff includes, but is not limited to, educators, administrators, counselors, school nurses, cafeteria workers, custodians, and bus drivers, and athletic coaches, advisors to extracurricular activities, support staff, or paraprofessionals.

Victim is a student against whom bullying, cyber-bullying, or retaliation has been perpetrated.
According to the research institute Olweus Bullying Prevention Program out of Clemson University the recommendation is that schools adopt four straightforward rules about bullying:

• We will not bully others
• We will try to help students who are bullying
• We will make it a point to include students who are easily left out
• If we know someone is being bullied, we will tell an adult at school and an adult at home.
That to me is some pretty sound advice!

As an educator and one who has advocated so hard for change, I couldn’t be more pleased with our school system moving forward with the new bullying plan. Let’s remember that any program on bullying is only a beginning for we can’t have any “end date” for bullying prevention activities.
Please remember bullying is not just a problem in poor schools, nor is it confined to a particular ethnic group; it’s universal. As difficult and widespread a problem as bullying is it is also a problem that can be solved. Research from across the nation shows that when schools take specific action, bullying can be eliminated. Let’s work together as a community to stop bullying!

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