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Effort focuses on ending bullying early

By Jim Shilander

Clarence Lobo Elementary School has been piloting a new anti-bullying program aimed at stopping the practice early.

Mary Fortmeier, a trainer with the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program, was among the speakers Thursday at a KindnesSCounts event celebrating San Clemente’s annual Blue Ribbon Week held at San Clemente Presbyterian Church. Fortmeier said the research behind the program suggested negative consequences for both the bullied and the bullies.

According to Fortmeier, bullied children suffered consequences such as lowered self-esteem, deep anxiety, absenteeism, suicidal thought and increased illnesses. Students who were bullied often also liked school less, Fortmeier said.

Fortmeier also noted, however, that bullies themselves often suffered long-term negative consequences. They were much more likely to get into fights, more likely to be truant and much more likely to commit crimes bullies were four times more likely to have three or more criminal convictions by the time they turned 24, according to the Olweus research, she said. The majority of students, the bystanders, also suffered consequences, she noted, including a more fearful school environment and decreased empathy for the bullied. And now, Fortmeier said, bullying had extended beyond direct confrontations into ore indirect efforts like cyberbullying, isolating a student socially and spreading rumors.

Fortmeier said the pilot program at Lobo Elementary was focusing on giving training at all levels of the school and providing a regular forum for kids to talk about what was going on.

Teacher Matt Colapinto said he’d carved out time every week to speak to his third grade class about their concerns.

“Sometimes its 20 minutes, sometimes more,” he explained.

Most weeks, he said, his class would sit in a circle on Friday afternoons and Colapinto would read from a note placed in a comment box. This was leading to students brainstorming different ideas for one another about how to handle whatever situation their fellow student was facing.

“We’re empowering them to make the right choice,” Colapinto said. “Kids love giving their friends ideas.”

Children thinking this way were much more likely to standup for a bullied student, he said.

Parents also heard from San Clemente School Resource Officer Ron Galvez. Galvez said the sheriff’s office had instituted a “text-to-tip” program that allowed students to provide information about potential crimes or inconspicuous bullying.

“We were getting 15-20 a week at the start,” Valdez said. “It’s not anonymous, but it’s a good way of getting information.” Galvez said the program had already lead to a number of instances where thefts or vandalism could be found out or fights could be prevented.

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