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September 01, 2011 10:03 PM

No Bullying Allowed

Sioux Falls, SD

School districts across the state had to decide what to keep and what to get rid of with big cuts to education funding. One program the Sioux Falls School District worked hard to not eliminate was the Olweus Bully Prevention Program.

It was piloted at Patrick Henry Middle School four years ago. Walk through the school's halls today and you'll see a common theme.

"They're everywhere you look in the 6th, 7th and 8th grade halls," student Kelsey Berger said.

Berger, an eighth grader, is talking about the no bullying signs. They're posted all across the school as a reminder to students that not only will it not be tolerated, but that others will step into help.

"I would step in and tell them to knock it off because it's not cool; it's hurting somebody else's feelings," student Brady Berke said. 

Berke knows just what to do to stop bullying if he sees it, not only because the signs, but because of a system the school follows called the Olweus Bully Prevention Program. It's recognized worldwide as a way to teach about bullying: what it is and why it needs to be stopped.

"Having all of us have the same language and same definitions was a huge part of it," counselor Sue Olson said.

School counselor Sue Olson says the training began more than four years ago with training teachers and administrators, defining what bullying actually is, and the difference between it and conflict.

"When we see bullying we know we have a definition of bullying we use, we have our bullying rules we follow and we intervene," Olson said.

Those guidelines are regularly discussed with students using exercises in what they call the Panther Den.

"It teaches each other what not to do, if you do it,  the consequences that will happen," Berke said.

"A time is set aside for a class meeting, and in that, there is team building.  There is education going on.  The students are building a sense of helping each other out," Olson said.

A part of that is learning the 'bullying circle' and the different roles people play from the bully, to bully followers and even bystanders.

"The majority of people are going to be bystanders. And activating or giving the bystanders the power or encouraging them to take action does a lot to stop bullying," Olson said.

One of the challenges teachers and administrators face is that bullying doesn't just happen here in the hallways anymore.  More often than not, it happens online.

"On Facebook, a lot of kids have Facebook," Berke said.

"There's cyber bullying, which is a hard thing to deal with, but, it's still bullying.  Kids are being educated on that too, and are made aware of what they can do," Olson said.

Online, on the phone or even handwritten bullying exists, and usually involves emotional bullying. Olson says that's just as bad as physical bullying and can have the same negative effects which, in extreme cases, can involve retaliation or even suicide.

To avoid that, the program teaches students to report these cases, whether it's happening to themself or someone else. At Patrick Henry that can be done anonymously in the 'bully box.'

"You try to stop it when you see it, but sometimes you have to go get a parent or guardian," Berger said.

The school has seen plenty of success with the program over the past four years with all sides doing their part.

"I think it's a wonderful change to be in the hallways and not be scared," Berger said.

And the goal is to keep it that way for years to come.

The Olweus Bully Prevention Program is being utilized in other Sioux Falls schools. The goal is implement it in all of the school district's middle schools.

Olson says it's also important to note that parents play a big role in the bullying process, and should let their kids know they are there to support them.

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