According to The American Medical Association, bullying is the most common form of violence in our society; between 15 and 30 percent of U.S. students are either victims or perpetrators. A recent study indicates that approximately 3.7 million youth engage in, and more than 3.2 million are victims of, moderate or serious bullying each year. Today, schools typically respond to bullying or other violence with reactive measures. However, installing surveillance cameras or metal detectors or hiring police to patrol the halls has no tangible positive results. Policies of “zero tolerance” rely on exclusionary measures that have long-term negative effects. Instead, researchers advocate school-wide prevention programs that promote a positive school and community climate. Existing programs can effectively reduce the occurrence of bullying; in fact, a successful program can decrease peer victimization by as much as 50 percent. Such programs require the participation and commitment of students, parents, educators, and members of the community. Effective components of such a program can include early intervention, parent/teacher training, positive environment changes, and a commitment to long-term prevention strategies. Currently, the “Shout Out Box” Program offered by our YCW program is not only one of our most popular, but also our best practice being used with regard to bullying.
Often, school administrators and staff have taken a short-term approach to bullying prevention. Generally a school will hold an annual assembly and occasionally introduce some lesson plans. Schools try to prevent and solve the issues simply. But bullying is not a simple matter. YCW acknowledges the efforts already put forth by those schools, but also felt compelled to assist each site with a more proactive long-term approach. After extensive research and communication with administrators, together we identified the most common behaviors and consequences associated with bullying. As expected, we found that over 80% of bullying went unnoticed or unreported to the proper authorities. With that, we geared our focus on creating a proactive approach to reporting. Our goal became identifying a reasonable means for students to feel confident and comfortable enough to report bullying and other negative behaviors. After securing a grant to fund this project, the YCW created an effective reporting system. We offered free special key locks, wall mounts, and metal mailboxes to those schools who participated with the YCW program. These “Shout Out Boxes” are mounted within the school building, affixed with the “Shout Out Box” label, advertised throughout the school with our free “Shout Out Box” posters, and readily available for students to begin their anonymous system of reporting. Students are asked: If you see something that you know is wrong, place your confidential report in this box. With the availability of these boxes, our hope is that the student body will take advantage of the anonymity of their reports and begin to feel comfortable enough to report negative behaviors.
Once the “Shout Out Box” program was established, each site was presented with the program details. It is mandatory that with each box, the school administration agrees to comply with our monthly reporting system. This report provides us with a summary of each note received. We require this report so that we may evaluate the success of this new program and they are not to be used for any other purpose. YCW sites were delivered a “Shout Out Box,” program announcement flyers, advertisement posters, and additional useful literature. Each school administrator develops their own means of communicating the new Shout Out program. However, we advise that they have numerous announcements over their PA system, and that an initial announcement and program description be held by each homeroom teacher. The school is then advised to mount their boxes in a secure yet low traffic area of the school building. Following the fifteenth of each month, our office receives a monthly report from every site that contains one of our boxes.
4. Results and Moving Forward:
After the initial implementation of this program, word of our boxes quickly spread and we began to see additional requests for participation. Realizing that these requests gave the YCW an opening into the schools and the opportunity to develop site partnerships, we decided to comply with a majority of these requests. Overall, our reporting system indicated that over 75% of our boxes had been utilized by the student body. School administrators have expressed only positive feedback with the program and have openly discussed issues that have come forward. With the development of this program, some sites have found the need for additional training and/or school-wide assemblies and individual lessons that provide a more comprehensive strategy to prevent bullying. Without the “Shout Out Box” program, these needs may have gone unnoticed.