Bullying, harassment down 79%? Oh, yeah!
Prevention program empowers students to get involved
DUBUQUE – There aren’t too many school districts that can boast they have plunged bullying and harassment by 79 percent. OK, there’s only one school district that can lay that claim: Dubuque Community School District.
Though a statistic like that seems almost too good to be true – you know what they say about too-good-to-be-true claims – this is the real McCoy. And it isn’t through happenstance or good drinking water.
The district launched its Green Dot program in 2013.
“It is a violence prevention program that helps students identify where bullying and harassment incidents may happen and empowers them to deal with those high-risk situations,” said Mae Hingtgen, the district’s learning supports and equity liaison.
Though the program is for all students, students with disabilities – frequently targets of bullying and harassment – may see the benefits of the program most keenly.
The program focuses on how to spot Red Dot situations – scenarios in which bullying or harassment is present – and how to launch a Green Dot resolution. The how-to of the program rests in its acronym Dot:
- D = Do it yourself, in which you confront the bully yourself or even just asked the target to go to lunch with you.
- O = Others can help: tell a teacher, a parent, a coach, or other students.
- T = Talk about something else to distract the bully.
“We all have our barriers to getting involved,” Hingtgen said. “It’s OK to be shy, not liking conflict, being less popular. That’s all OK. We get students to assess what would make it hard for them to get involved. Then we bring it back to the Dot. If you don’t like conflict, then do the O or do the T. We give students a lot of ideas on how to respond to Red Dot situations based on their individual personalities and what they are comfortable with. Then we have them practice.”
The program is in the district’s middle and high schools, with plans to roll it out into the elementary schools.
The program was developed at the University of Kentucky as a means of curbing dating violence and sexual assault. The developer, Dorothy Edwards, who at the time was the director of the rape crisis center at the university, decided to create a model for high schools, altering it to be more age appropriate with an emphasis on dating violence and bullying. Later, she developed a middle school model, which is mostly aimed at bullying. Edwards is currently developing a developmentally appropriate grade school model.
“We were the first school district in the nation to adopt the Green Dot on as large a scale as we are,” Hingtgen said. “We want to be the first district in the nation to have Green Dot K-through-12.”
In a recent training of middle schoolers, students were engaged in determining how kids have influence over others, and what Red Dot situations – from dating violence to cyber bullying – look like. Students then broke into teams to discern what they see in their schools, what kind of language surrounds these scenarios and then asking one another, “What would I be comfortable doing to end the behavior?”
It’s a six-hour training course in which the district has so far trained over 1,000 students. Participants are chosen based on their perceived ability to influence their peers, and come from all walks of student life from athletics, drama, student council, science and chess clubs, to name a few.
“Our goal is to always have at least 15 to 20 percent of the student body who has gone through the training,” Hingtgen said.
One middle school in the district, Washington, decided that all students were potential influencers and decided to have all students trained. And now Jefferson Middle School is training all seventh graders.
Results from the training are gratifyingly immediate.
“We had some students go through Green Dot training, and they were back in school the very next day,” Hingtgen said. “There was a new girl at school who was being picked on and, in two separate incidents with two separate students who had gone through the training, they intervened and made the girl feel safe at school.”
No one needs to convince students that the program is valuable. Just ask Jefferson Middle School’s Tashawn Vance and Dezi Copeland, both of whom were going through training recently.
“I see bullying a lot in our school and I would like to try to help stop it,” Tashawn said. “Honestly, I don’t do it right now because I may be made fun of or left out. But I’m learning, don’t be afraid to do it yourself, don’t be afraid to ask a teacher.”
“We’re learning what we can do to prevent it,” Dezi said. “You see bullying in the hallways sometimes, some will act out. I guess they don’t see it as a big deal to make fun of one another.”
Any teacher could tell you that the benefits of the Green Dot program go far beyond stemming the miseries of being a bully’s target.
“When kids feel safer at school, then they have the opportunity to learn,” Hingtgen said. “Kids are more engaged, teachers can do their jobs of teaching rather than having to deal with withdrawn students.”
“We have two messages with Green Dot,” she said. “The first message is: Violence will not be tolerated. The second message? Nobody has to do everything, but everyone can do something. We are changing the message that every single one of us – teacher, parent, student – it is all our responsibilities to end Red Dot situations in our schools.”
Hingtgen knew the Green Dot program was doing well in the district – but not that well. When she first saw the report that there had been a 79 percent drop in bullying and harassment in a four-year period, she didn’t believe it.
“My first thought was, ‘we still aren’t reporting enough,’” she said. “We average about 50 reports a years, and with 10,500 students, I didn’t really think that was right – we still aren’t doing enough to get students to report. Then my second thought was, ‘Green Dot is working!’”