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Juvenile officer helps develop antibullying program for schools

Students River Valley School Lemont learn elements taekwondo which can be applied standing up bully. Supplied photo

Students at River Valley School in Lemont learn elements of taekwondo, which can be applied to standing up to a bully. Supplied photo

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Updated: November 11, 2012 6:02AM



While the nature of school bullying has not changed much since parents were children, the methods for getting the job done sure have.

“I think it’s true that bullying exists in every school,” said Maria Hawk, principal of Incarnation School in Palos Heights.

Even though her school had instituted a zero-tolerance policy regarding aggressive behavior, Hawk said she knew it still was going on.

“The kids were just getting smarter about how they did it,” she said.

The persecution either went under the radar or took place after school, she said. But its roots were school-based.

It used to be that kids who were targeted by school bullies got a reprieve with the 3 o’clock bell. They could go home to their families and peace and quiet.

Today’s bully knows few bounds. Social media, cell phones and the Internet enable him or her to carry out the torture 24-7 and on a global scale.

“We recognized that as hard as we tried to address it, it was still going on,” Hawk said.

So she opted for a new approach: The Core Matters Project.

Developed by Christy Pace, a 22-year veteran of the Palos Heights Police Department, and other local professionals, Core Matters is a 13-week program that aims to teach would-be bullies how to be respectful and mind boundaries while building resilience and strength in would-be victims. The program was piloted in three local schools last spring, including Incarnation.

What is bullying?

First things first. Pace said society has gone overboard when it comes to defining bullying.

“While there definitely is an overall increase in the lack of respect today, not every kind of bad behavior is bullying,” she said.

A true bully, she said, is someone who is intent on hurting or gaining power or control over someone else. Boys tend to use physical means, girls emotional.

Being bullied today can be even more devastating because technology enables the aggressor to attack his victim around the clock, often without the knowledge of adults.

“It has been our finding that simply adding rules and restrictions does not end bullying,” Pace said.

Nor does it increase the overall level of respect in a school.

Core Matters is designed to do both, Pace said.

It addresses the needs of the bully by finding out why he craves power over someone else. It addresses the needs of the victim by giving him the skills to stand strong.

In addition to Incarnation, the program was tested last school year at River Valley School in Lemont and Greenbriar School in Blue Island.

In each school, participants met weekly to recite a code of conduct and learn the principles of tae kwon do. The physical aspects of the martial arts act as a metaphor for the intrinsic skills that are developed, Pace said.

The students learned that behaviors such as name-calling and physical contact are wrong and that addressing adults with courtesy titles is a display of respect. The kids also learned how to stand up to a bully.

Both Pace and Hawk believe the program works. Still, Pace said, “we want to be evidence-based.”

So she’s working with Governors State University to collect data and monitor results. Initial findings show a definite decrease in the amount of teasing and bullying in the pilot schools, she said.

Once that step is complete, Pace said, she can expand the program’s reach to include other schools in the Southland.

Good results

Hawk was so impressed with the results of the program that she plans to feature it again, possibly around Christmas. She has received a grant enabling her to pay the estimated $95-per-pupil cost of the program.

“Last year, we featured it for fourth and fifth graders,” Hawk said. “This year, we plan to include sixth graders as well.”

Since the program concluded, Hawk said, she’s noticed a dramatic drop in tension among the student body.

Everyone, she said, seems more respectful.

Pace and Susan Barnes, also a project administrator for Core Matters, have worked closely for years developing safety materials for use in schools and other organizations. That initiative, called the Safety Education Alliance of America., was focused on developing printed materials about bike safety and “stranger danger” to local police departments to be distributed in local schools.

Two years ago, they were invited to participate in a bullying summit.

Core Matters, a nonprofit group, grew out of that summit.

“We realized that the reason kids bully is because they’re angry, fearful or feeling inferior,” Pace said. “So if we could create kids who are strong and balanced, they wouldn’t need to bully.”

On the flip side, she said, other kids are more sensitive and less resilient to the aggression brought on by a bully. Core Matters focuses on making those children stronger by giving them techniques for standing up to a bully.

Parents want to spare their children any and all kinds of pain, Pace said. But learning how to deal with pain and adversity helps a kid develop coping skills.

“You need coping skills to get through life,” she said. “If you don’t have coping skills, you’re going to struggle.”

For more information on The Core Matters Project, call (708) 389-0641 or visit
thecoremattersproject.com



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