When people walk through the halls of La Paloma Academy’s Lakeside campus, they’ll quickly notice the school’s stance on bullying.
In certain areas of the building, posters line the walls touting the four rules for encountering a bully: telling an adult, helping the victim, including others in activities and, of course, not bullying anyone.
One recent day, a class wore self-designed T-shirts displaying those four rules, the result of a class project.
There are weekly and, sometimes, monthly meetings involving classes, student leaders and teachers to discuss bullying.
The meetings, T-shirts and posters are the result of a schoolwide program not only aimed at discouraging bullying but promoting an anti-bullying culture at La Paloma.
The charter school, which serves kindergarten through eighth grade, began tackling its bullying problem two years ago, using methods from the nationally known Olweus Bullying Prevention Program, which was created to prevent bullying and improve peer relations.
“It’s not just a whole curriculum to teach anti-bullying. It’s a whole climate shift in the school,” said Jennifer Hinckley, a counselor at La Paloma.
The school began its turnaround with a survey from students that gave teachers and administrators an idea of the school’s bullying problem, and when and where incidents were likely to occur.
School officials found that bullying most often happened in the playground during recess, in physical education classes and during other unstructured times when children gathered, Hinckley said.
Teachers have encouraged students to be forthcoming about bullying while teaching children the difference between reporting an incident and tattling.
“A lot of times, the behavior goes underground or it becomes kind of sneaky, and the kids who are doing the bullying find the times that they’re not going to get caught,” she said.
Officials began training staff members on how to intervene when bullying occurs, as well as recognizing the difference between bullying and a conflict between students.
Bullying is purposeful and hurtful, there’s a power imbalance between the bully and the victim, and it occurs over time instead of just once, she said.
“It really has helped us to have a better conversation about it, and our parents are also involved in our communication about the difference between bullying and conflict,” she said.
The training evolved into classroom lessons, presentations at school assemblies, newsletters, bully-prevention meetings and other activities.
Students not only have learned more about bullying and how to prevent it, but they also contribute ideas and hold one another accountable.
“If you see a new kid, you should at least introduce yourself. Don’t jump to conclusions,” said seventh-grader Haaris Abbasi, 12. “Instead of discouraging, you should be encouraging.”
The message has also spread to the younger students.
“If everyone was bullying, then it’s not going to be a perfect school because everyone is picking on” one another, said second-grader Victoria Minch, 7. “We need to stop bullying.”