By Arwyn Rice
Peninsula Daily News
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Diana Reaume told those at Monday’s Prevention Works meeting that she has high hopes the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program will produce relief for hundreds of bullied students in Clallam County.
More than 60 percent of students are affected by peer-bullying from kindergarten through the end of high school, Reaume told about 30 mental health professionals, high school students and representatives of several school public districts and the Lower Elwha Klallam tribe who attended the meeting.
Reaume said she knew anti-bullying efforts in Forks were inadequate in 2008, when a student and her parents met with Reaume and the Quillayute Valley School Board behind closed doors and described her torment.
“She said, ‘And nobody did anything to help me,’” Reaume said.
“It was the most humiliating experience as an educator in my career,” she said.
Reaume began seeking a research-based anti-bullying program to change the culture within the school.
She selected Olweus, a program designed by a Swedish psychology professor and currently implemented mostly in the New England region.
“It was perfect for the Forks area,” she said.
The district applied to Prevention Works, a Clallam County-funded coalition of prevention specialists, which provided a $12,000 grant to purchase the curriculum.
Students often reported that teachers have historically not responded to students’ pleas for help with bullying and that they simply stopped going to them for help, Reaume said.
“Teachers failed to recognize the importance of intervention,” she said.
Olweus works to change the underlying culture of the school, educating staff, teachers and students, and providing a clear set of expectations.
Students are required to intervene and report any bullying incident they witness.
Reaume said students are still working on understanding the difference between being a “tattletale” and reporting an incident.
Staff members are required to begin a clearly defined response program: stop the bullying, support the victim, identify the bullying behavior, engage bystanders, implement immediate and appropriate consequences, and take steps to protect the victim from retaliation.
Since the program began, not only are students reporting bullying incidents, but there also have been two incidents reported that involved staff-on-staff bullying, Reaume said.
A baseline student survey taken in March 2013 found that the elementary school playground and buses and the middle school play shed were areas where bullying was most severe in Forks.
Surveys will be repeated every March to determine whether the program is working, Reaume said.
She said she expects to see an increase in reported incidents in the upcoming survey, simply because students and staff can now recognize more behaviors as bullying.
The program also addressed what research has proven does not work to combat bullying behavior.
Zero-tolerance policies, suspension, anger management, self-esteem enhancement, mediation and conflict resolution do not work to reduce bullying behavior, she said.
Mediation and conflict resolution put the bullied student at risk for retaliation, and research has shown that the popular view of bullies having low self-esteem is not true, she added.
“People who bully tend to have pretty good self-esteem and often have an inflated sense of self,” said Vicky Rockholt, a school counselor at Forks Elementary School who accompanied Reaume at the presentation.
Reporter Arwyn Rice can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5070, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.