Academic journal article Professional School Counseling

Preventing and Responding to Bullying: An Elementary School's 4-Year Journey

Academic journal article Professional School Counseling

Preventing and Responding to Bullying: An Elementary School's 4-Year Journey

Article excerpt

Bullying is unfair and one-sided behavior that happens when someone keeps hurting, frightening, threatening, or leaving someone out on purpose ( Committee for Children, 2001). Tolerating bullying makes the whole school environment unsafe and negative because it affects children who are bullied, children who bully, and the bystanders (Smolinski 8c Kopasz, 2005). Bullying continues to be a pervasive problem in schools today, so state governments have mandated that schools be responsive to this threat to children's safety (Sacco, Silbaugh, Corredor, Casey, 8c Doherty, 2012). Bullying begins once students enter kindergarten, but many programs wait until the upper elementary grades to address the issue, despite evidence that peer group rejection in kindergarten may continue throughout the primary school years (Buhs, Ladd, 8c Harald, 2006). Although research on bullying in early childhood is limited, studies conducted in a variety of countries have shown that bullying occurs at the same rate in kindergarten as in elementary school (Alsaker 8c Nägele, 2008).

A suburban elementary school in the southeast United States implemented a schoolwide intervention because bullying incidents were negatively impacting school climate and being handled inconsistently by staff. The intervention was based on Steps to Respect (STR), which provides universal interventions at the school and classroom levels with a selective intervention aimed at students involved in bullying events (Frey et al., 2005). District administrators selected STR because it was one of the evidence-based programs on a list approved by the state. In 2007, the district provided trainthe-trainers staff development (which the author attended) for all elementary school counselors, led by a Committee for Children trainer.

The purpose of this research was to examine the effectiveness of a bully prevention intervention program designed to reduce incidences of bullying and to use the data to improve the program. This article offers suggestions to school counselors regarding a leadership role in establishing collaborative bullying interventions, advocating for the resources to implement and maintain effective interventions, and collecting data to make informed decisions about how efforts can be improved.


Bullying often goes unreported because students believe adults will not listen to the concern, think the school cannot help, or fear retaliation. Petrosino, Guckenburg, DeVoe, and Hanson (2010) found that 36% of bullying victims (ages 11-17) reported their victimization to a teacher or other adult at school and 64% of victims did not. In the study, student-reported bullying declined by grade level, with the highest rate (52.9%) for students in grade six. In two school systems in central Virginia, 35% of students in grades 3-5 reported, "I have been bullied, but I have not told anyone" (University of Virginia Violence Project, 2012). Physical bullying was generally reported but bullying that involved making fun of the victim, excluding the victim, spreading rumors about the victim, and forcing the victim to do things he or she did not want to do were often not reported (Petrosino et ah, 2010). The behaviors that did not get reported were commonly labeled relational aggression, often associated with female bullying.

Since the Columbine High School shootings in 1999, a growing body of literature has addressed the importance of a schoolwide approach to bullying. Davidson and Demaray (2007) found that parent, teacher, classmate, and school support can have a positive influence in the lives of students who were bullied. Vreeman and Carroll (2007) reviewed bullying interventions and concluded that the most effective interventions used multidisciplinary or "whole-school" approaches consisting of school policies, teacher training, classroom curricula, conflict resolution training, and individual counseling.

Salmivalli, Voeten, and Poskiparta (2011) surveyed students in grades 3-5 and concluded that bystander responses influence the frequency of bullying; therefore, bystanders need antibullying interventions. …

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