Student-driven program could be more effective in reducing bullying in schools

Most anti-bullying programs in the schools are driven and supervised by adults, but the authors of a new report on bullying argue that a student-driven approach could improve results. Keys to recruiting students include encouraging students to identify the scope of the problem, raising awareness among students that their help is essential, and giving them the necessary time, resources, training and support.

In an article published in Education, four researchers at the University of Nevada, Reno and the University of North Texas outline the consequences of bullying, examine research on various anti-bullying efforts, and provide rationale and strategies for implementing a student-driven anti-bullying program.

77% of rural school students bullied

A 1998 study by the U.S. Department of Education found approximately 25% of fourth to sixth-grade students reported being bullied in the prior three months. About 77% of seventh to 12th grade students at rural schools reported having been the victim of school bullying. The authors say their review of literature suggests that zero-tolerance policies do not appear to work on their own; programs that focus only on helping victims also appear to be ineffective.

Given the limited success of many anti-bullying programs, the authors present several rationales for a more student-driven approach. Because bullying often occurs when there is little or no adult supervision, students are more likely to notice it. Students see their peers in many situations while teachers generally see students only in the classroom. Spreading rumors and excluding students from a group, while less obvious to teachers, can be just as damaging to victims. The authors suggest a three-pronged approach to setting up student-led campaigns:

  • Awareness–Develop awareness and support among students as well as
    among faculty and administrators. To educate the school community about the
    issue, they suggest an anonymous survey about bullying that would include
    teachers. The survey can also provide a baseline to gauge future success. It is
    important to mobilize faculty and administrators behind the effort. Teachers
    should be provided with inservice training on how they can best support a
    student-driven campaign without leaving students feeling vulnerable when they
    attempt to intervene. Activities that help students personally connect with the
    impact of violent acts can prompt them to commit to change.
  • Avenues — Students need to be given time to plan, and be provided
    with support and training. The authors suggest that small counseling support
    groups in which 5-7 students meet regularly with a trained adult may work better
    than large groups where students may feel intimidated. They stress the
    importance of including a range of students, not just those involved in student
    leadership. In one Australian secondary school, students developed posters,
    performed skits on bullying and helped victims of bullying.
  • Assimilation — The authors stress that “an on-going commitment to
    students and their ideas is critical. Those who develop antibullying programs
    must think about how these efforts can continue each year.” Rotating students
    from different grades is one way to keep programs going as older members move
    on.

The authors found little research on such student-developed models, indicating a need to both develop and study such programs.

“We’re Not Gonna Take It: A Student Driven Anti-Bullying Approach” Education, Summer 2005 Volume 125, Number 4

Published in ERN January 2006 Volume 19 Number 1

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