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Answer Sheet
Posted at 04:00 AM ET, 09/18/2012

Fighting bullies — one school community at a time

We hear a lot about the problem of bullying but less about programs that actually help curb the insidious problem. Here are some that have helped in different communities, written by John Gomperts, president and chief executive officer of America's Promise, a nonprofit network of organizations that helps promote volunteer action for young people.

By John Gomperts

As the school year starts, young people settle into unfamiliar classrooms with new classmates. Sadly, at some point in the school year, far too many of these kids will be confronted by a bully. A recent SAFE survey found that one in four kids in the United States is bullied on a regular basis, making it one of the most common forms of violence young people experience. And people know about the problem and think something should be done. A recent Gallup poll found that three out of four Americans think bullying prevention should be part of the school’s curriculum.

Thankfully, a number of communities are ahead of the curve and already working to stem bullying and their youth are benefitting from this foresight. In Orange County, N.Y., seven schools have implemented a Safe School Ambassadors program, which trains young people to identify and respond to bullying in their schools.

And it is paying off: one middle school reported 300 successful interventions, as well as the creation of a school-based social marketing campaign denouncing abusive behaviors and encouraging a more supportive climate. The message to bullies is that their peers will not accept a culture of intimidation and violence.

Now, three more Orange County school districts have anti-bullying training scheduled.

Orange County is just one of the communities being recognized as one of the 100 Best Communities for Young People, which America’s Promise Alliance and ING U.S. recently announced. This annual competition recognizes communities small and large that make the success of youth a top priority by helping them stay safe, healthy and in school. And in this year’s competition, we saw a marked increase in the number of communities that have zeroed in on the importance of anti-bullying efforts.

A local winner, Prince William County, Va., focused on the students most at risk and specific risk areas such as cyber bullying and teen dating violence. The county uses the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program, a national model that restructures the existing school environment in a way that reduces opportunities and rewards for bullying. The Prince William school district’s efforts include presentations on cyber bullying for middle school students, sexual harassment prevention lessons for secondary school students, and its Safe Dates program helps teens recognize the difference between caring, supportive relationships and controlling, manipulative or abusive dating relationships. In Prince William, 50 schools have participated in these bullying prevention programs, with four more schools signed up to join this school year.

Out west in Alameda, Calif., the whole community is engaged in preventing bullying. Through community workshops, school assemblies, film screenings, speech writing contests and other activities in its 20 schools, youth, parents and teachers are learning how to speak out about and combat this growing problem. Alameda has also made bullying prevention part of the school curriculum. All this effort has made a big difference. Elementary school principals cited an increase in the number of students who say they felt more empowered and safe to report incidents of bullying. This year, Alameda plans to offer bullying prevention forums to parents and students in all of its schools. School officials also anticipate having more than 30 related events and activities on the calendar this year.

If we want young people to stay in school, learn, flourish, graduate and go on to higher education and productive work, then we need to make sure that every child feel safe at school and in after school activities. Orange County . . . . and other winners of the 100 Best Communities for Young People have made a bold start. We hope that they are showing the way for communities across the country.

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