It's not good enough to combat bullying one instance at a time.
With playground bullies being joined by mean girls and cyberbullies, DuPage County educators say there's a greater urgency for school districts to address the problem on a systemwide level.
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"This isn't something that you can fix and then walk away," Regional School Superintendent Darlene Ruscitti said. "There needs to be an ongoing effort to maintain a more civil society within our schools."
To achieve that goal, a countywide task force on Friday is planning to unveil an anti-bullying manual that will be put to the test in three DuPage school districts. Lisle Unit District 202, Hinsdale High School District 86 and Medinah School District 11 will see if the strategies outlined in the manual are effective at preventing bullying.
The document is the result of seven months of work by an anti-bullying task force, which included school board members, principals, superintendents and parents. Task force members also developed a model bullying policy and a reporting form.
The manual, drafted by the task force's "best practices" committee, is expected to be refined and improved as the three school districts use it. Eventually, officials are hoping it can be used by all school districts in DuPage.
"Every time we talk to kids, they say bullying is pervasive in our schools," Ruscitti said. "So we decided to join forces to look at this broadly and holistically to lessen this pervasiveness."
While many districts already have policies overseeing harassment and bullying, the task force sought to give them access to the same data. It gathered information with the help of consultants, including bullying expert Bennett Leventhal of the Nathan S. Kline Institute for Psychiatric Research and Roger Weissberg, president of the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning.
District 202 Superintendent Patricia Wernet, who served on the task force, said the most important message is that bullying isn't acceptable -- and shouldn't be ignored.
"There's bullying everywhere," Wernet said. "It's in the school system. It's in the work force. And research has shown that one-shot programs aren't effective. So our goal is to build a culture of caring and empathy."
Lisle school officials this school year have placed "a strong emphasis" on developing a positive environment. In addition to anti-bullying activities for students, the district has hosted informational sessions for parents. Lisle Junior High School students also produced an anti-bullying video that has been viewed more than 10,000 times on YouTube.
To truly reduce bullying, Wernet said, everyone must be part of the solution.
"It's all about the integration," she said. "You have to have a districtwide system. And we have to involve our parents, our students, our community."
Each school in DuPage will name someone who will be trained in using the resources developed by the task force, officials said. Their ongoing work will include developing a three-year plan to continue to combat bullying.
Ruscitti said the plan is to closely monitor any progress and change strategies that don't work. "Because what's the point in doing something if you get the same results?" she said.
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