- The Washington Times - Monday, November 13, 2000

PITTSBURGH At a middle school here, principals are teaching students the tricks of bullies name-calling, exclusion, ridicule, pushing, shoving and threatening.

It's for a good purpose. They are hoping that if students can recognize the actions of bullies, they will be able to put them out of business.

"We want the students to understand what bullying is and to report it to an adult right away," said Principal Donna Milanovich.

Miss Milanovich, teachers and counselors devised during the summer an anti-bullying education campaign for Harrison Middle School, which has 1,160 students in grades six through eight. The goal is to wipe out bullying at the middle school and, eventually, throughout the district.

The bullying issue became a priority for the school in March when an eighth-grader at Harrison, who had been a longtime victim of bullying, sneaked a loaded shotgun into school. The 14-year-old, who had carried the weapon onto the school bus, was entering the crowded cafeteria when he was spotted by physical education teacher Dave Thorne.

Mr. Thorne and two colleagues asked the boy to unload the gun and place it on the floor. He complied. School officials declined to comment on the boy's punishment.

"When we investigated the incident, we found that he had been bullied for a very long time, not just at this school but in the past as well," Miss Milanovich said.

Bullying has become a national issue, too, ever since the shootings at Columbine High School 18 months ago. School athletes reportedly made life miserable for Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, the two seniors who shot and killed 13 Columbine students before taking their own lives.

Since then, the Jefferson County, Colo., school district decided to change the culture that may have contributed to the massacre. A few months later, two dozen football coaches attended a mandatory meeting on promoting tolerance and leadership among student athletes. The meeting featured Jackson Katz, a motivational speaker who specializes in "gender violence prevention."

The program that Harrison is initiating draws largely from the research of Dan Olweus, a psychology professor from Norway who is considered the leading authority on bullying, based on his 20 years of research on the topic. Miss Milanovich said other schools that have used Mr. Olweus' recommendations have seen a 50 percent reduction in bullying incidents after two years.

The program calls for clearly defining for students what bullying is and how to react to it. It encourages students to "break the code of silence" that often keeps them from telling on one another even in serious situations, the principal said.

At Harrison, the students get the message the minute they step into the main entrance of school where a large banner declares: "Bullying is not OK in this school."

Other signs around the school, purchased with a $500 donation from the Harrison Parent-Teacher-Student Association, carry no-bullying messages.

A back-to-school letter sent to each family detailed the program, and each faculty member received a thick stack of literature about bullying.

Among the specialists whose work is included in the packet is Mary Margaret Kerr, outreach director for the Services for Teens at Risk Center at Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic.

Miss Milanovich said her staff found some surprising insights in reviewing research on bullying. For example, educators long believed that bullies were students with low self-esteem.

But current research shows that bullies generally have high self-esteem and often are the more popular students, bright pupils and those whose examples other students are willing to follow.

Bullying tends to peak in the middle-school years, she said, and diminish in high school. Perhaps less surprising is that students who bully often don't recognize themselves as bullies, and when their parents are called, they, too, deny that their children are bullies.

In May, Harrison administrators held a three-day workshop for 12 boys who had been identified as bullies some of them accused of bullying the boy who took the shotgun to school.

"They may have realized that some of their actions were inappropriate, but they never attached them to bullying," said Randal Lutz, an assistant principal who helped conduct the sessions.

"Then when we talked about bullying, they identified behaviors as bullying, but didn't connect them to themselves," Mr. Lutz said.

By the end of the three-day workshop, he said, the boys had come to accept the fact that they had bullied.

• Distributed by Scripps Howard

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