The Bullying Prevention Program in South Carolina

The first wide-scale implementation and evaluation of the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program in the United States took place in South Carolina. Below is a brief overview of this project.

Preparation

To help ensure that the program would be implemented with fidelity, one staff member attended an intensive training led by Olweus and colleagues in Norway. Furthermore, Olweus was engaged to provide consultation for the South Carolina initiative throughout the implementation process. One important consultation activity involved modeling a day-long training in the program for local school personnel whose schools were not going to participate in the program. After watching Olweus's modeled training, program staff then conducted a trial training with another group of non-participating school personnel. With feedback from training participants and Olweus, program staff refined their approach in preparation for the actual training of staff from participating schools.

Participating Districts

Program staff recruited six school districts to participate in the project based upon the following criteria:

 They were located in non-metropolitan areas.

 They were matched with another participating district in a neighboring county
on the basis of student and community demographics.

 They were distributed in various regions of the state.

 The superintendent was motivated to participate in the project.

The ethnicity of students ranged from 46 percent to 95 percent African-American, and from 4 percent to 53 percent white. While the percentage of students receiving free or reduced lunches (a measure of poverty) in one of the participating districts was 47 percent, which represented the state average, it ranged from 60 percent to 91 percent in the other five participating districts. Furthermore, all six districts were in counties that ranked in the state's top 15 percent for juvenile arrests in 1994.   

Program Modifications

In addition to all of the school-, classroom-, and individual-level components of the Bullying Prevention Program (described in the main text of this event), the South Carolina project also implemented two key elements to better meet the needs of participating districts:

 Schoolwide rules: While the original program called for the establishment
of classroom rules against bullying, this project encouraged schools to develop schoolwide rules instead. This was primarily due to the fact that American middle school students typically change classes and have multiple teachers throughout the day, which is not the case in Norway. Olweus has recently begun to recommend the development of school-wide rules as well.

 Community involvment: While the original program focused exclusively on
the school, classroom, and individual levels, this project encouraged schools to engage the broader community in bullying prevention efforts in recognition of the powerful influence the community has on children and families.

Program Materials and Support

With Olweus's consultation, program staff developed an English version of his Bully/Victim Questionnaire as well as a new questionnaire to assess related antisocial behaviors. Also in collaboration with Olweus and program staff, South Carolina Educational Television created a short video titled Bullying, which was modeled after the Norwegian video from the original program and intended to be used to initiate discussions with students. Program staff further developed a Teacher Guide for use with this video as well as a brief educational pamphlet for participating schools to distribute. In addition, program staff provided ongoing consultation to schools throughout the project and arranged for school-based mental health professionals to be hired by local mental health centers -- as part of a separate program -- to provide services to students and families, help coordinate the program, and initiate interventions with bullies, victims, and parents of affected youth.

Implementation Challenges

The following is a brief overview of some of the main challenges that participating schools experienced during the implementation process:

 Mixed support from some school staff members due to a lack of concern
about bullying problems, a lack of time and energy to take on any additional
work, and/or a lack of comfort with or understanding of the program itself.

 Related to the challenge above, some school staff members experienced
difficulty with the classroom meetings. Some felt uncomfortable engaging
students in discussion about and other activities related to bullying, while
others had a hard time finding a consistent time for the meetings within their
hectic schedules.

 Provision of ongoing consultation from program staff had to decrease over
time, which caused some schools to lose momentum and others -- particularly those in the comparison group that only began to implement the program in Year
2 of the project -- to have a hard time launching the program.

 Perception of the program as a short-term strategy for bullying prevention, or
the "program du jour", which makes it difficult for staff, parents, and students to participate enthusiastically and commit to the sustained effort required by this
and other comprehensive initiatives.

 Conflict with other approaches to prevention embraced by school staff, such as
grouping bullies together in a single classroom for educational purposes or for therapeutic strategies such as anger-management, skill-building, empathy-building, or self-esteem promotion (click here for a note on why this is problematic).

To learn more about the implementation of the Bullying Prevention Program in rural South Carolina, look for the following publication from which the information above was drawn:

Limber, S. P., Nation, M., Tracy, A. J., Melton, G. B., & Flerx, V. (in press). Implementation of the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program in the Southeastern United States. In P. K. Smith, D. Pepler, & K. Rigby (Eds.) Bullying in Schools: How Successful Can Interventions Be? Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.