Hicksville District adopts Olweus Prevention Program
According to a 2015 study by the National Center for Educational Statistics, more than one out of every five students reports being bullied. A 2017 Centers for Disease Control study reflected that students who experience bullying are at increased risk for poor school adjustment, sleep difficulties, anxiety and depression. To that end, the Hicksville School District adopted the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program, a universal, school-wide effort involving all adults in a school.
It is designed to be implemented and sustained over time to change school climate and social norms. The program is evidence-based and supported by a large body of research. Olweus was introduced to the district by Anthony Lubrano, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, and with the full support of the board of education, especially vice president Brenda Judson.
The Olweus Program seeks to include everyone who has an impact on a child’s life—school, classroom, individual, community and parents,” Lubrano explained.
Olweus New York State Leader and Olweus Technical Consultant Joanne Verdino began working with the Hicksville Public Schools this past summer. She met with the principals to familiarize them with the program and prepare for implementation.
“I’m a licensed clinical social worker who worked as a school social worker for 35 years,” Verdino said.
She implemented the Olweus Program in Jericho Middle School in 2012. Verdino guided Hicksville’s principals to select a committee of staff members from their school, known as the Bully Prevention Coordinating Committee (BPCC), who would be responsible to turn-key train all school staff members. Each BPCC meets regularly and Verdino meets with the principals each month for consultation and to support their continued program implementation. For Verdino, this kind of culture/climate change is the key to the success of the Olweus Program. She considers it crucial to have everyone on the same page when it comes to derailing bullying behavior.
“You have to develop a committee of individuals in each school,” she said. “They’ve really done that in a way that involves all the constituencies, so there would be teaching staff from different areas. We have a librarian on every committee. We have school psychologists and social workers. We have physical education teachers, teaching assistants, clerical staff—they all go through full, two-day training. Then that committee really becomes the guiding force for implementing the program in the school. A lot of these activities in the class meetings are meant to create a bond, strength and rapport between the students and the adults. A major goal is to cut down on the possibility that somebody would be socially excluded and to also empower students to use some of these skills as upstanders and help a peer when they see it. Those meetings will continue to go on throughout the year and at the same time, the staff will continue to talk about the program and learn more things.”
The prep work before the launch took about four to five months, and while there was plenty to go over with the principals at each school, plenty of other related topics were addressed.
“I wound up meeting individually with each of the principals for consultation every month for about an hour a month,” Verdino recalled. “They really had given them a lot of support along the way. There were discussions above and beyond the kickoff as well, about how to utilize the class meetings; how to add some skills to the teachers’ repertoire of what to use in the class meetings; to address issues that could be [causing bullying incidents] going on in the lunchroom or recess; what kind of positive reinforcements we can give to the kids we know are helping others?”
She added, “I was at one of the schools the other day and they were about to do announcements and the teacher mentioned the names of two girls she wanted to compliment over the loudspeaker about helping a classmate with a problem. They kept it very discreet and didn’t give any details, but they gave kind of a shout-out to these girls. It’s about continuing to infuse this in everything that they do.”
Earlier in the year, each principal and BPCC implemented kick-off assemblies to introduce the Olweus Program to elementary students. Each school picked a theme to launch its program, and teachers wrote new lyrics to familiar songs so the entire school could sing along about kindness and empathy. Student council members, art teachers and the PTA created banners to decorate the meeting rooms where the kick-off events were held, and generous PTAs and parents purchased and/or donated special t-shirts so each school was visually united for its kick-off.
Students and teachers wrote scenarios about bullying, such as being excluded from lunch tables and playground games, and acted out the scenes during the all-school assemblies.
Regular follow-up meetings with students are planned to reinforce the positive, supportive behaviors emphasized by the Olweus Program.
“Each of our schools has woven the program into the fabric of their school in a unique and personalized way,” Verdino explained.
Verdino also explained parental involvement is key. Parents should initiate conversations with their children by asking about the class meetings they are having. “Parents can also encourage their children to be inclusive and kind to their classmates at school,” Verdino said. “It is important that they remind their children that they should share any concerns they have about issues related to bullying with their parents and their teachers.”
Visit www.violencepreventionworks.org/public/olweus_bullying_prevention_program.page to find out more about the Olweus Program. Visit www.hicksvillenews.com to see more pictures from the district’s Olweus Bully Prevention Program launch.