Anti-bullying program kicks off January 21 in Milaca schools

Thomas A. Kvamme • For the Mille Lacs County Times

An anti-bullying message will be delivered loud and clear when the Milaca schools officially begin the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program on Jan. 21.

Beginning at 1:30 p.m. that day, the public is invited to attend an open house with staff and students in kicking off a districtwide program to help eliminate bullying.olewus logo

When asked why an anti-bullying program is necessary, Judy Pearson, who serves as executive director of the Pearl Crisis Center of Milaca and is a Milaca School Board member, said, “It got to a level where you can’t get away from it.”

“With the social media, you can’t go home and get away, as it follows you everywhere,” Pearson continued. Regarding bullying, Pearson said,  “It never was and never will be right; it was wrong then and wrong now.”

To put an end to bullying, Pearson said she believes it is necessary to be proactive.

The elementary portion of Olweus, with students in prekindergarten through sixth grade, is kicking off in the main gym at Milaca High School. The high school portion of the kick-off is to be staged in the old gym.

The program will run until 3:05 p.m., with the two programs running simultaneously, but separately, to fit accurately with the student population.

Both events are open to all students, staff and the entire community.

Through this event, district leadership’s goal is to inform students of the changes and let them know what will be expected from them in the future.

Raising funds 

Currently, organizers are raising funds to help purchase a T-shirt sporting the new anti-bullying program logo.

If enough funds are raised, the T-shirts will be provided free of charge.

Cost of each shirt is $4, and as of the last report, more than half of the funds have been raised.

Individuals interested in helping with this effort are being asked to make a check out to the Milaca Public School and forward to the District Office.

The logo that will be featured on the T-shirt is a design by Milaca junior Alex Ploeger. This logo features the Milaca M with eight stick figures working together, living up to the slogan printed below: “We Build Each Other Up!”

Faces everyone 

Milaca is certainly not alone when it comes to the bullying issue.

However, by implementing this program and facing the issue head on, the district’s goal is to make the students of Milaca aware of what bullying looks like and what they can do to help eliminate bullying.

One of the changes that will be started in the school is the introduction of class meetings in all grades.

A Bullying Prevention Coordinating Committee, which includes staff members and community members, has been working to get this program going in the Milaca schools.

Research has shown such a program helps to make the school a safer, more positive place where students can learn.

Olweus Program

In bringing the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program to Milaca, a lot of advance work was done.

“We did a lot of research, as this group has been around the longest and provided the most evidence-based research behind it for success,” Pearson said.

While some parents don’t believe their child is involved in bullying, officials note bullying affects everyone at school because it affects the entire school climate.

If a child is directly involved in bullying, they might still be afraid of certain students or areas of the school where it happens.

The program will inform parents as to what they can do if their child is being bullied.

At the same time, students, staff and parents will become aware of the consequences of bullying.

Pearson noted the Olweus program is known worldwide and should be a good program to learn from.

What is bullying? 

According to the Olweus program, bullying is described as being when someone repeatedly and on purpose says or does mean or hurtful things to another person who has a hard time defending himself or herself.

Bullying can take many forms, such as hitting, verbal harassment, spreading rumors, not letting someone be part of the group, and sending nasty messages on a cellphone or over the Internet.

According to a report in a U.S. study of bullying with more than 15,000 students in grades six through 10th grade, researchers found that 17 percent of the students said they had been bullied sometime during the school term.

Eight percent had bullied others sometimes or more often during the term, while 9 percent had bullied other students at least once a week.

Four key rules 

There will be four anti-bullying rules that will be implemented throughout the Milaca School District:

–We will not bully others.

–We will try to help students who are bullied.

–We will try to include students who are left out.

–If we know that somebody is being bullied, we will tell an adult at school and an adult at home.

Once the system is up and running at the schools, this system will also provide a basis for punishment.

“Now there will be a system,” Pearson pointed out, as reporting can be anonymous.

Pearson also said the burden will be on everyone because “now they can’t walk away.”

New program

The Olweus program is set up to prevent or reduce bullying. This is not a curriculum but a program that deals with bullying at the schoolwide, classroom, individual and community levels.

The plan is to have teachers and staff trained to use the program and deal with issues. School staff will make sure that all areas of school where bullying is likely to occur are being watched.

Students will be asked to complete a questionnaire to provide information about the amount and type of bullying taking place at school now. All students will be expected to follow the four anti-bullying rules.

Down the road, there could be parent meetings along with parent and student events.

In the works 

Pearson said efforts to get the program implemented has been in the works for about one year.

Pearson, who realized a need to “do something,” is credited with coming up with the idea to get the program off the ground in Milaca.

To get the program operating, Pearson first wrote grants, leading to necessary funding from the Otto Bremer Foundation and CentraCare. Those funds were used to provide the training and the purchase of materials and training tools.

The four trainers included Pearson, Tearza Jones, Colleen Bell and Michelle Stupar. Jones is the Safe Dates Coordinator at the Pearl Crisis Center, while Bell is a history teacher at Milaca High School, with Stupar working as a social worker in the Milaca Elementary School.

Training

Regarding the selection of Bell and Stupar for training, Pearson said: “The administration thought they were a good fit and they were more than willing. They do a wonderful job and I can’t say enough good things about them.”

This group of four carried the training a step further, working with more than 30 committee members. Committee members include a judge, county attorney, law enforcement, parents, ministerial staff, Pearl Crisis Center staff, business owners, a banker, teachers and administration.

In addition, the group has representatives from the food service and janitorial departments, along with bus drivers.

Jones reported the committee is up to the challenge.

“They are very open and very excited and want to help in this effort,” Jones said.

Fun Program

Pearson is looking forward to the kick-off on Jan. 21.

“It will be a fun day with the kids as we introduce this program,” Pearson said.

At the same time, this sets the stage to let everyone know things “will be done different now and all will know the rules.”

However, the kick-off is planned to be in a fun environment.

Pearson sends out an invitation to the community to “come to the event as everyone is more than welcome to see what this is about.”

As a way to keep the program in front of the community, Ploeger’s logo will be used throughout the community.

“The goal is to get the program into the community, so if kids are uptown, a business will have a sticker in the window, indicating that business is a safe place,” Pearson said.

Pearson said she strongly believes that with everyone involved, this “community issue,” can be resolved.

Be accountable

Results of the new program will be evaluated and reports will be gathered as to how the new measures work.

With the program up and running, “the rest will be absorbed into the school and will be how we do business,” Pearson added.

Pearson noted that Mora began a similar program last year, while Ogilvie has started an effort as well. Other schools are also planning to get in place a program dealing with bullying.

Currently there is no state mandate; however, there has been some legislation dealing with the issue.

From Pearson’s standpoint, she said Milaca “likes to be ahead of the game as at some point they may make it mandatory.”

Pearson, who deals with crisis situations, pointed to that as a reason her office became involved.

“We see bullying as another form of violence, and if not dealt with now, those same folks might end up in our service as an adult, leading to the domestic violence world,” Pearson concluded.

To learn more, call the Pearl Crisis Center at 320-982-2901 or Milaca Public Schools at 320-982-7301.

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