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Promising Practice - Quality Schools (Anti-Bullying Program in Pueblo)
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Pueblo City Schools
Meghan Cira’s middle school experience years ago, when bullies began their brutal and unwavering attacks, is still seared in her adult mind.
“I was made fun of because I was the fat kid and wasn’t from a well-to-do family,” said Cira, now a second-grade teacher at Carlile Elementary School in Pueblo City Schools. “They would slam the books out of my hands. I would never say anything. I just dealt with it. I wish I had had some of the self-help learning skills.”
Cira now teaches students those skills as part of a district-wide bullying prevention strategy that is one of the Pueblo City Schools’ top strategic goals.
Over the past three years Pueblo City Schools has received $2.1 million from the Colorado Department of Education’s School Bullying Prevention and Education Grant to implement evidence-based bullying prevention programs across its 26 schools. District officials had been seeing a steady increase in bullying incidents leading up to the 2015-16 school year and wanted to do something to stop it.
The money has allowed the district to purchase the Second Step Social-Emotional Curricula for kindergarten through eighth grade and partner with a nonprofit organization called No Bully. The grant has provided training for teachers on anti-bullying techniques and paid for things like family education nights and materials for schools that emphasize anti-bullying messages.
Money for CDE’s School Bullying Prevention and Education Grant comes from marijuana tax revenue, which was approved by the state legislature. Seventy-one Colorado schools in 2017 received funding from the grant.
A survey of students from Colorado schools that have received the grant money showed an overall 19 percent reduction in bullying. The results were recently touted by WalletHub, a consumer website, which ranked Colorado among the top five states that are preventing bullying.
Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports
Pueblo City Schools has the largest number of schools receiving the grant. Each school in the district can choose how it implements an anti-bullying strategy as long as it follows the district-wide Positive Behavior Intervention and Support (PBIS) protocol of creating a positive, supportive and safe learning environment and bullying prevention protocol.
At Carlile Elementary, where Cira heads up the bullying prevention program, the school’s PBIS program is called CATS, which stands for Caring Achievement Teamwork Success. Students are empowered to become leaders and follow the school’s motto - “work hard and be kind.” Students and staff interrupt any bullying incidents they see with a phrase, “As CATS, we accept and respect.”
Carlile’s program teaches students to understand what bullying is, provides them a protocol to follow if they witness bullying and tells them how to use problem-solving skills when they are involved in conflict. The school has used the grant funding to purchase a social-emotional learning curriculum, provide family nights and make T-shirts that promote students as Carlile Peacemakers.
“It has been extremely successful,” Cira said. “I can see the evolution of problem-solving skills. I am not having to step in to solve conflicts. I hear kiddos saying, ‘That’s not OK.’ For the most part, they are handling these things on their own. When they have the ability to solve problems, they will have lifelong skills. Allowing them to do that at their age-level is huge. They can grow up to be successful, functioning members of society. They’ll know how to express their feelings and not do something that is tragic.”
Carlile Elementary School
In 2016-17, 13 bullying incidents were reported at Carlile. After a year implementing the school’s bullying prevention strategy, only five were reported. By mid-year, no incidents had been documented, said Jimmie Pool, Carlile’s principal.
“What we are doing is empowering students to be peacemakers,” Pool said. “We know a lot of our kiddos come from experiences that may be challenging. They may not have the tools to deal with bullying. If we don’t have those set up, it could be hard to learn. So what we are asking ourselves is what can we do to show the kids that they matter? How can they effectively use the tools? Who can they go to if they need help?”
Across the district is Beulah Heights Elementary, which also is implementing a PBIS system it calls ROAR. The idea is to encourage students to display positive behaviors. When an adult sees a student being positive, the kids earn a credit on their punch cards. At the end of the month, a drawing is held for students with credits on their cards for prizes. Students and staff interrupt any bullying incident they see with the phrase, “All scholars matter.”
“I see students knowing what to do,” said Chelsea Lindeman, second grade teacher at Beulah Heights. “I hear them say, ‘No, don’t do that. Scholars matter.’ I see students solving their own problems. And referrals have gone down.”
Tara Roybal, a specialist in the district’s department of intervention, said bullying incidents across the district have fallen by 62 percent over the past two years. To showcase the work, the district for the past two years has hosted Community Peace Summits – events that bring together schools and community partners to highlight how the schools have become kinder and more inclusive. This year more than 1,000 people attended the event that was held in a large arena, she said.
Roybal listed reasons for the district’s success, including its evidence-based bullying curriculum, training teachers and building leaders in how to install positive behavior supports, having schools develop their own social visions to promote kindness and inclusiveness and getting families involved.
“We want this to be sustainable,” she said. “We have trained the trainers. We have done the professional development and we have created the systems. We know learning is not happening when students don’t feel safe. We want them to come to a place that is comfortable and safe and where learning is happening. That is our ultimate goal.”