Milaca Public Schools kicked off its Olweus anti-bullying program Jan. 21 with a flourish, with the high school (grades 7-12) and the elementary each doing a separate set of activities.
At the high school, staff members danced as a group on the gym floor while students swayed in the bleachers to thumping music. Audio-visuals were projected showing students holding up anti-bullying signs, a man with Tourette’s Syndrome spoke of his experiences being bullied as a child, a pie-throwing event took place, and six staff members sang like they were the Blues Brothers.
Milaca High School Band Director Andrew Nelson started the celebration off by leading the school band in music, followed by Nelson dancing to music coming over loudspeakers. That led to a group of staff members joining in on the dance.
The high school students and staff all wore custom T-shirts with a logo symbolizing Milaca’s anti-bullying program. Just below the logo were the words “We will build each other up.”
The Milaca area’s Pearl Crisis Center, which helps victims of sexual and domestic abuse, is a partner in the anti-bullying program in Milaca. Pearl’s executive director, Judy Pearson, helped get two grants and did fundraising to purchase the T-shirts. One grant was from the Otto Bremer Foundation and the other from CentraCare.
Mille Lacs County Attorney Jan Jude and 7th Judicial District Judge Sarah Hennesy were present to support the program. Jude started the county’s anti-bullying education program called the Golden Rule Project and she hopes to dovetail the project into the Milaca anti-bullying program. Her office is a sponsor of the local Olweus program.
Milaca High School Principal Damian Patnode and social studies teacher Colleen Bell gave talks about the Olweus anti-bullying program. Bell was one of the staff members who participated in Olweus training last year in New Mexico..
Milaca chose the Olweus (pronounced Ol-ve-us) program because it is the most researched-based program in the world, has been around since the 1980s, and because staff members feel it is the best fit, Patnode said.
All staff in the high school has been trained to participate in the program to reduce existing bullying, prevent new cases of it and build better peer relations at school, Patnode noted.
Patnode referred to a survey of students given last school year to grades 6-11 at Milaca to get an idea of the seriousness of bullying. The survey showed that “55 percent of our students know about or see bullying occur and dislike it but do not know how to intervene appropriately,” he said. “This program will empower all of us to intervene and stop bullying behaviors.”
Also, about 20 percent of the students reported having been a target of bullying — which is about 170 students, Patnode said.
Bullying and harassment have been increasing at an “alarming rate” across the nation, Patnote said. He defined bullying as happening “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 three forms, Patnode said. One is aggressive behavior involving unwanted, negative actions. The second is a pattern of behavior repeated over time. The third is when there is an imbalance of power or strength between the bully and the victim.
The imbalance can be where the bully is bigger and stronger, it could be a group ganging up on a single person or smaller group, or it could be someone using a difference in social status to bully.
Bullying comes many forms, Patnode continued. They include hitting, verbal taunts, spreading of false rumors, intentional social exclusion and sending inappropriate messages on a cellphone, iPad or over the Internet.
Patnode also listed the four rules in Milaca’a anti-bullying program:
• 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.
Milaca’s new program has made the reporting of bullying convenient. Students can fill out a report form to be turned into the school office. The forms are in all of the school’s classrooms and offices. Reporting can be also done through an online form and on an iPad.
These reports “need to be legitimate and serious,” Patnode said.