AYER — Since the beginning of this school year, the school district has been to implement the “Stop Bullying Now!” program thanks to funding from the Ayer Education Foundation.
In September, program creator Stan Davis, who’s also a founding member of the International Bullying Prevention Association, trained teachers and worked with the 25-member Ayer Public Schools Bullying Prevention Committee during a two-day workshop.
Davis revisited in October for a parent information night titled “Raising Responsible, Resilient Children” during which parents learned about bullying prevention research.
On Jan. 17, a letter from Superintendent of Schools Dr. Lore Nielsen informed residents of the program’s launch. The letter outlines the ways the district has worked on safety and bullying in the past — responsive classroom, high-school Human Rights Squad, diversity training and Internet Safety.
Davis has spent over 40 years working as a human rights advocate. Since the 1990s, he’s researched and worked on bullying in schools.
“Generations of parents have accepted childhood bullying as a fact of life,” said Davis. His work has shown him that telling a bullied child to ignore the bully doesn’t help.
“Young people who bully are looking for power over others,” he said. “They can tell if someone is pretending to ignore them and are likely to just try harder until they break through the child’s self-control and get a reaction.”
Davis’ program is based on the research done by Dan Olweus, of Norway, who was commissioned in 1983 to conduct a research and intervention project on bullying after escalated bullying behaviors resulted in severe and tragic consequences in northern Norway.
The research says a significant reduction in bullying can be seen when people “set clear standards for acceptable and unacceptable behaviors and enforce consequences consistently without anger, build strong positive staff-student connections in schools, add extra supervision in situations where bullying arises, talk with bullying youth and their parents about the behavior, support targets of bullying and empower bystanders to help targets and report bullying behaviors.”
Students across the district are being introduced to this program and how it will work.
At Page Hilltop School, Principal Robert Ackerman and Assistant Principal Amy Emma have been working closely with guidance counselors Jane Garrett and Christine O’Brien along with health teacher Shari Matthews to familiarize the students with the information about this initiative. Ackerman and Emma have gone to each of the first- through fourth-grade health classes to talk about the school’s Discipline Rubric, a chart that clearly demarcates what consequences will occur according to each category of offense.
“The kids have been doing great with the introduction to this program. Our motto is ‘No Hurt Feelings, No Hurt Bodies,'” said Emma. “I think the students feel safe with this program. They feel that they will be protected and that the consequences for children showing inappropriate behaviors are fair and will apply to any member of the school.
“Our purpose is to keep everyone safe,” she said. “If bullying is tolerated, it only gets worse. This is an opportunity to introduce to our children how to act differently during a bullying situation so that we can stop it from occurring. We are working hard to create ‘active bystanders’ who will help bully victims and report bullying that might have gone unnoticed by adults.”
Matthews and Garrett agreed.
“We have a great population, and we knew that they would do well with this information.” said Matthews. “Kids need to learn how to manage emotions and have positive outlets for excitable emotions, whether they be negative like anger or frustration or positive like excitement.”
Nielsen encourages families to “talk to your students about the program and help them understand how, with your help and the help of teachers, they can stop bullying in their schools.”