November 23, 2011 - With numerous teen and young adult suicides over the past year related to bullying, Oxford Middle School officials are hoping to stop bullying before it starts.
On Monday, Nov. 14, OMS administration, along with district administration, community leaders, deputies from the Oakland County Sheriff's Office and surprise guest Lomas Brown, who played offensive tackle for the Detroit Lions from 1985-95, launched the OLWEUS Bullying Prevention Program (OBPP).
"There are people not only within the school now, but staff members, parents, and community members, (who) are all on the same page – it stops now, we got your back," OMS assistant principal Brad Bigelow said.
"We are going to take it seriously," he added. "If you report an incident, we are going to investigate. We will look into it and we will do all we can to address the situation and take care of it."
The OBPP is the most-researched and best-known program of its kind.
According to Bigelow, the program flips the script on the usual way people think about dealing with bullies.
"In the past, we have all focused . . . our efforts on the bully," Bigelow said. "However, now (we're) focusing our attention on the victim and how can we support them . . . Just like our slogan, we got your back, we are here to support you and we will address these issues."
He added the goal is to also empower those who witness bullying incidents to speak up and do the right thing.
"80 percent of our kids are bystanders in bullying type situations...so if we can empower those kids to step up and do the right thing, I think it can have a huge positive impact on the culture within our building," Bigelow said.
According to Bigelow, 18 individuals - staff members, a parent, a transportation department representative and a community member - met for a day-and-a-half for training by a certified OLWUES trainer in order to get the program up and running.
"From there, within that group, we then trained the rest of our staff over a six hour period," he said.
There are four "anti-bullying rules" set in place for all students to obey:
1. We will not bully others.
2. We will try and help students that are bullied.
3. We will try to include students who are left out.
4. If we know someone is being bullied, we will tell an adult at school and an adult at home.
In addition, teachers and staff members were given "on the spot bullying intervention cards," which includes six steps to follow when intervening in a bullying situation.
Those steps include:
1. Stop the bullying.
2. Support the student who has been bullied.
3. To the student who bullied, name the bullying behavior seen.
4. Empower the bystanders with appreciation if they were supportive to the student who was bullied, or provide information on how to act in the future.
5. Impose immediate and appropriate consequences for the student who bullied.
6. Make steps to make sure the student who was bullied is protected from future bullying.
Bigelow felt students have really taken the challenge to heart.
"Over the past week we had great conversations going on in classrooms with kids. Our teachers are conducting class meetings once a week now that focus on bullying issues, and I think overall there is an excitement...and the kids have been accepting the challenge," Bigelow said.
Even though the first week has been a success, Bigelow hopes students will be able to sustain it throughout year.
"Now is the tough part. We've done the training, we've had the kickoff, now it's actually teaching kids the bullying rules, teaching them on the spot interventions," he said.
Bigelow noted the middle school was teaming up with 95 juniors and seniors at Oxford High School to serve as "Bully Busters." Those students will help guide middle school students during the instructional sessions.
"They basically say we've been through what you've gone through before, and let me tell you, it does get better. We are here to support you and we are here to help you get through whatever it is you are going through now," Bigelow said.
Even though Bigelow feels the bullying problem at OMS isn't "any worse than anywhere else," he still wants to try and put an end to it. "I believe we are bring proactive in terms of how we are going to address it and take the bull by the horns and take care of it."
Andrew Moser is a staff writer for the Oxford Leader.