A student committee works to make playgrounds safer.
By MONICA BOND
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
HERMITAGE, Pa. -- Nearly a year after it was started in the Hermitage School District, an anti-bullying program appears to be raising awareness and lowering episodes of bullying, a program leader says.
Superintendent Karen Ionta instituted the program last summer after witnessing a bullying incident. She could see anti-bullying programs coming onto the national scene, said Bill Brest, sixth-grade teacher at Delahunty Middle School.
Brest said an end-of-year survey was completed last week, but the hard data are not yet available.
"We have seen less physical contact, less name-calling, and fewer incidents of bus concerns," he said. "We're also carrying it over to athletics and other extracurricular activities."
"I don't think our bullying is extremely out of hand compared to other schools," Brest said. "We're just doing something about it."
The district has four committees: curriculum, fund-raising, policy and pledge; Brest is co-chairman of the curriculum committee. His wife, Diane, is chairwoman of the K-12 school district anti-bullying program.
Brest said bullying used to be grouped with "discipline concerns," but because of increasing awareness, bullying is now considered an independent issue.
The school district has defined bullying as a pattern of aggressive behavior and "an improper use of power."
He said there are four categories of bullying: physical, social, emotional, and verbal or communication.
In addition to the four committees, Hermitage has committees made up of pupils in grades six through 11, in three buildings, Brest said. His committee of pupils is concerned with making playgrounds better places.
"We've discussed how to lower incidents of bullying on playgrounds. We've talked about teachers having walkie-talkies, teachers being more mobile, and only having Nerf balls and bats instead of hard baseballs," he said.
According to the outside recess procedures drawn up by the student committee, two staff members should be on duty at all times during recess. Equipment is school-issued or soft equipment; no leather footballs or hard baseballs or softballs are permitted.
According to the National Education Association, Hermitage is the only district in the area that has teachers using walkie-talkies during recess.
Hermitage had a kickoff assembly last October to initiate the anti-bullying program.
"At the beginning of each year, we'll have a kickoff week, during which there will be four or five days focusing on bullying," Brest said.
In addition, there will be surveys at the beginning and end of each year to monitor progress, mini lessons worked into the pupils' regular curriculum throughout the year and "teachable moments," Brest said.
The staff trained with the NEA, then conducted training for pupils selected by staff members to be leaders in the program.
"Our main goal right now is to raise awareness. We have advertisements and some sort of blurb in the morning announcements," he said.
Brest said the school district plans to have a meeting this summer to discuss and revise the anti-bullying program.