About 275 educators attended the 2nd state Summit on Bullying.
Students at Taylors Falls Elementary in Chisago Lakes get daily recognition for good deeds such as holding the door open for others and picking up dropped food in the cafeteria.
And as a result, Principal Joe Thimm told other school officials at the second Minnesota Summit on Bullying, students want to help their classmates -- not hurt them.
"This turns around the atmosphere in school," he said.
About 275 teachers, administrators, guidance counselors and school nurses attended the summit at the University of Minnesota on Monday to exchange ideas about how to thwart school bullying. Those efforts are particularly relevant in Minnesota, where several high-profile suicides linked to bullying have drawn national media attention.
Much of Monday's discussion centered on the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program, an international program the local Hazelden Foundation and Clemson University help schools around the country to implement. It takes a school-wide approach, in which prevention is taught to everyone connected to the school. Marlene Snyder, a national bullying expert and Olweus' development director, said bullying tends to be a pervasive problem even though schools are making tremendous strides to quell it. Verbal attacks are among the most common ways kids bully each other, while cyber bullying is the least common but often has the most devastating results, she said.
"Many of the kids who committed suicide were cyber-bullied," Snyder said. "It can be one of the last things that happens in a child's life."
Snyder said one reason that bullying continues to infiltrate schools is that some students, parents, teachers and administrators still choose to do nothing or show little empathy for victims.
Olweus has conducted over a million student surveys about bullying. Among the more troubling statistics is the drop-off in the number of students who try to help bullying victims. In third grade, almost half the students surveyed said they would try to help a classmate being bullied. By sixth grade, that percentage starts to drop and by ninth-grade, only 25 percent of students say they would come to the aid of another being bullied.
But many Minnesota students want to do their part to prevent bullying, teachers and administrators said.
Minnetonka High School Principal David Adney described how staffers have helped create a school-wide culture in which students take pride in good behavior and are ashamed of bad behavior. Also key are informed parents who take action when bullying problems arise, he said.
"The comment we get that just shatters us is when a parent comes in to the office and says, 'You know this has been going on for months.'"
Also instrumental in combatting bullying, summit attendees agreed, is having strong laws in place.
Minnesota's current bullying law has been widely criticized. At just 37 words, it prohibits bullying without ever actually defining the term.
In late January, however, a bipartisan group of House members proposed legislation that would set statewide standards for reporting and disciplining bullying. The original legislation was proposed in November by Attorney General Lori Swanson. The bill defines bullying as in-person or online conduct on school property, on school buses or at any school-sanctioned activity that is "so severe, pervasive or objectively offensive that it substantially interferes with the student's educational opportunities," or places him or her in harm's way or in fear of harm, or substantially disrupts school operations. The measure would also require educators to report a bullying incident within 24 hours of learning about it, and to develop procedures to document, investigate and discipline the students involved.
Kim McGuire • 612-673-4469