Beat Bullying by Building Friendships

Michael P. Dallessandro
Posted on September 1, 2005

For three days straight, a fourth-grader torments another fourth-grader with nasty, hurtful comments. On the third day, the aggressor pushes the weaker student out of her seat and onto the floor. The driver chastises the student and, following the run, brings a conduct report to your office.

The term "bullying incident" is written clearly in bold letters on the form. Two or three years ago, the term bullying would have never been used. The driver would have simply scolded the students and most likely checked a box on the conduct form that read "safety violation" or "tripping/pushing/horseplay."

Today, we have clearly identified and classified certain undesirable types of behavior as bullying and, in some cases, have boxed ourselves into a very tight corner.

Some states have mandated training on bullying. In New York, a massive statewide anti-bullying campaign for school transportation employees was launched. Many school districts have offered anti-bullying training, messages and slogans to faculty and have gone so far as to educate parent groups about bullying concerns.

What have you done?
That is exactly the question you should keep in the back of your mind as you and school administrators deal with incidents labeled by your drivers and monitors as bullying. Even a lawyer who graduated last in his class will make that his first question if your operation is involved in one of those high-profile bullying cases we have all seen on television.

As a result of the attention on bullying, our drivers have discovered something. A perfect way to bring attention to a student who is a chronic discipline problem is to report his or her behavior as bullying. The bottom line is that the term bullying is here to stay, and we as department heads and administrators have to evaluate and document every incident.

Simply responding to bullying incidents is only half the battle. Taking steps to prevent bullying by creating an environment that does not nurture bullying can make significant inroads in making your job less stressful and reducing your liability.

How you do that depends greatly on your budget, staff support and the attitude of your bosses. Here is how one enterprising elementary school in my district tackled the issue.

Ride the buses
The staff and parents of the John T. Waugh Elementary School in Angola, N.Y., wanted to be proactive with regard to bullying and horseplay on the school bus. Under the leadership of Principal David Patronik, the building planning team met to brainstorm on effective ways to send a positive message to students.

Before making any firm decisions, team members felt it was important to have an understanding of the school bus environment. On one hot spring afternoon, they split up and rode on school buses. They quickly learned that the environment on the bus was very different than in the school building. There was much more freedom and a lack of acceptance and tolerance between older and younger students.

Planning team members felt that if they were going to curtail bullying, they would need to facilitate communication between different age groups. Students would need to build the same types of relationships on the bus that existed in the classroom.

The team needed a way to make older students look out for younger students and make older kids understand the feelings of other older kids. With that in mind, team members were better prepared to approach their task.

{+PAGEBREAK+} Let's do lunch
After a number of meetings, the building planning team was ready to roll out its plan. A series of lunches was planned in which students would dine with their bus drivers. These were no ordinary lunches, however. Students were summoned from their classes by the principal's voice on the building PA system. As they entered the gymnasium, the children were greeted with tables set with white cloths, plates, chocolate milk and food services staff with chaffing dishes ready to serve. Students greeted their drivers and heard words of welcome from their principal and myself.

Each day, the group was treated to different lunch fare (chicken fingers on Monday, french toast sticks on Tuesday and my personal favorite, chicken fajitas, on Thursday).

It was very important that mixed groups of students sat together for lunch. Kindergartners ate with third-graders, fifth-graders ate with first-graders. Tolerance and understanding were the underlying goals.

The bus pledge
As students were finishing lunch, they were called by table to go up and sign their names on a large poster board that represented their bus. While this was going on, drivers met with a subgroup of students to select their bus pledge. They brainstormed with students to select a short pledge that promised to work toward tolerance, pride and understanding.

Each bus selected unique and special wordings and wrote them in black marker on the side of the bus poster. As a side activity to encourage cross-grade teamwork, students colored 8-by-10-inch buses. Once finished, these were placed on the wall around the large bus that carried the pledge on its side.

As the lunch began to draw to a close, Mr. Patronik and the drivers explained the "Bus Buddies" program. To avoid all of the obvious difficulties with using student "bus monitors," it was determined that students needed to take responsibility but not be given direct or implied authority.

Bus Buddies, however, is a key part of the overall program. Each bus would have two or three buddies who wear lanyards with Bus Buddy tags. These buddies would look out for students' feelings and meet with their principal every two weeks to discuss how children are treating other children on their assigned buses.

Bus of the Month
The planning team felt that since there was an ongoing process for students to report concerns and provide feedback to adults, there also needed to be a process for adults to provide positive reinforcement and praise to bus groups.

It was decided that each of the large bus posters created with pledges on them would be placed in the main hallway of the school. Clusters of the smaller buses that the students colored were also placed on the wall around the larger pledge buses.

Based on feedback from the bus buddies, drivers and transportation management would select a "Bus of the Month" and designate it with a large star on the pledge bus posters. These students and their drivers would return for a special lunch to bond again as a bus group and receive certificates of award for their great behavior.

The program has been a huge success. Clearly, to make this work, you must approach it as a team, bringing parents, students, transportation, administration, the school board and food services staff together with a common goal.

Some legwork and budgetary adjustments are required. Once you get through your first run, however, it becomes easier the next year. After all, wouldn't you like to have somebody ask you what you have done to combat school bus bullying when you have a program like this?

Michael P. Dallessandro is transportation supervisor at Lake Shore (N.Y.) Central School District and a frequent contributor to SCHOOL BUS FLEET.

Related Topics: behavior management

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