When Dearborn Public Schools' joint community-schools anti-bullying campaign was , no one was really sure how widespread bullying was in the district's 32 schools.
But now, with the close of the program's first year, officials have a much clearer idea.
From September 2011 to June 2012, 919 incidents of bullying were logged by staff members. Four-hundred thirty-two incidents were logged at the elementary level, 395 were noted at the middle school level, and 92 were tracked at the high schools.
Though it’s difficult to measure the effectiveness of the anti-bullying campaign because the district did not track incidents prior to 2011, officials believe the program is making a dent in the level of bad behavior at the schools.
The program includes not only tracking of bullying incidents, but . It's a joint effort supported by the City of Dearborn and the schools–an aspect highlighted by officials.
The program's need was particularly illustrated when one of the most widespread bullying incidents in Dearborn's recent history took place in February.
The –which involved the circulation of letters that commented on the personal lives and alleged sexual practices of several female students–resulted in the suspension of four male students at , followed by two at . The incident caused an uproar in the community, and district spokesman David Mustonen said it underscored the need for community involvement in stopping bullying.
“It shows that we needed to have something that was community-based instead of something that was just about schools,” he said.
Under the bullying program guidelines, each school hosts three age-appropriate anti-bullying events per year.
The district also held parent meetings, and trained each of its 2,200 employees about how to recognize bullying, and how to document the incident.
“We started using a special program to track incidents last year,” said Gail Shenkmann, the assistant superintendent for secondary education. “It helped us learn more about what was happening at the schools.”
The results showed that the program appears to have had an impact.
A survey of students taken at the beginning of the school year indicated that 48 percent of elementary school students, 43 percent of middle school students and 40 percent of high school students indicated they have been bullied. But a survey at the end of the year indicated that 26 percent of middle school students and 17 percent of high school students said they were bullied.
About 77 percent of reports filed indicated that bullying was observed and reported by students, according to data provided by the district. Administrators had initially thought that it would be staff members that would be reporting incidents.
Most of the student-observed incidents were at the high schools.
Mustonen said it’s unclear what the data will show next year.
“It could be that the numbers will go down," he said, "but they could also go up because of increased reporting."
Ahead of the Curve
The anti-bullying campaign at DPS was implemented before , mainly because the district wanted to address the issue, but also because the legislation was languishing in Lansing.
Jody Manning, the parent training and information center coordinator for National Bullying Prevention Center in Bloomington, Minn., said school districts are coming on board with substantial in-depth anti-bullying programs.
“I think what has happened is that school districts have realized that ... teaching young people that they shouldn’t support bullying is not a one-time shot," she said. “Schools recognize that programs need to be ongoing, year-long efforts that are more inclusive.
“It takes a long time to change the climate at school.”
Michigan legislation approved in December 2011 dictates that every school district must have a bullying program and language in place.
For Dearborn Public Schools, it's now just a matter of seeing where the numbers go.
“This is the first year of the campaign," said Mustonen, "and we can’t make any predictions on what the number will be next year."