MILTON — Changing the culture and atmosphere of a school isn’t easy, but in the Milton Area School District, four years after adopting a comprehensive anti-bullying program based on the Olweus system at its elementary schools, the changes are becoming real.
“We do see a heightened empathy (among students),” said Katie Kling, program coordinator and a third grade teacher at Baugher Elementary School. “There’s a heightened awareness.”
The Olweus system “is focused on long-term change that creates a safe and positive school climate,” according to the program’s website. It’s a process which involves educating students and building awareness about bullying through this education, Kling said.
Four years into the program, the terms and processes that have been introduced into the school have become commonplace, said Kling.
“It’s become how we do things here,” she said.
For example, program participants are taught about the difference between “reporting” and “tattling,” which aim to empower bystanders in a bullying situation.
“They learn things like what are the appropriate situations to speak up,” Kling said.
Another important part of the program is getting community and parent involvement in the anti-bullying process, something Milton has been fortunate to have and is hoping to develop more heading into the future, Kling said.
“We want to work with students outside of the school setting,” she said. “Bullying is not just a school problem.”
The community has responded well, with many businesses putting up “Safe Space” anti-bullying signs to indicate that students are welcome and safe in that area, Kling said.
“To know that our kids have that support is great,” she said.
The mission to help stop bullying in its tracks is a personal one to Kling.
“The whole program hits very closely to my heart,” she said. “(To see the kids changing) gives me chills. It brings tears to my eyes.”