SIKESTON -- U.S. schools haven't done much to prevent bullying, a report says, but officials with the Sikeston R-6 School District insist they're taking a proactive approach to bullying.
"We're not seeing much of it (bullying)," noted Julia Reynolds, sixth grade counselor for Sikeston Middle School. "There's really been very little of it, but we're being proactive."
Since school started three weeks ago, the Sikeston Middle School --a popular age for bullying -- has had one reported incident of bullying, Reynolds said, and it was referred to the principal.
Bullying is defined as aggressive behavior by one person or group carried out repeatedly and over time and targeted at someone less powerful, according to the report, Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, a national advocacy group.
The report said for children in grades six through 10, nearly one in six, or 3.2 million, were victims of bullying each year; and 3.7 million were bullies.
Nearly 60 percent of boys whom researchers classified as bullies in grades six though nine were convicted of at least one crime by the age of 24; 40 percent of them had three or more convictions by age 24, the report said.
For these reasons and others, Sikeston Public Schools implemented character education throughout the district last year and follows a zero tolerance policy on bullying. Dr. Larry Bohannon, Sikeston R-6 assistant superintendent of secondary education/staff development, said rather than wait for a problem with bullying to occur, the district took a proactive approach as they began revamping their bullying policy last year.
"A committee made up of school counselors and PE teachers studied policies and worked with the existing policies on bullying for the district to determine where and when fighting happened," Bohannon said. "They met on more than one occasion."
Prevention programs are relatively inexpensive, the report argued. For example, it costs about $4,000 to train someone to administer an anti-bullying program in a large school district, but $100,000 to put a child with emotional problems in special education for 12 years, the report said.
There are additional personnel costs but the report said federal money for safe and drug free schools often will cover those expenses.
A 1998 study by Vanderbilt University estimated that each high-risk juvenile prevented from adopting a life of crime could save the country between $1.7 and $2.3 million.
Those who are bullied are five times more likely to be depressed and far more likely to be suicidal, the report, citing U.S. and European studies, said.
Reynolds said character education is the key for both potential bullies and victims. With character education, students are rewarded quarterly and acknowledged monthly for appropriate behavior, Reynolds said.
"But we don't want the kids to think if they're good, there has to be some reward. We want them to do it because it makes them feel good," Reynolds said.
Prevention programs can cut bullying by half, the report said.
For example, the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program developed in Norway has produced a 50 percent reduction in bullying and other anti-social behavior in that country, and a 20 percent reduction in a South Carolina test.
"When creating the policy on the bullying, a committee looked at different cities and school districts to see what their policies were," Bohannon said.
And although they haven't been installed yet, lock boxes will be put up near counselors' offices so students can anonymously write messages to their counselors if anything is wrong.
"They can write something like, 'I need to see you,' or whatever," Bohannon explained. "Sometimes kids are afraid they'll be made fun of if they tell on someone, but with the boxes, other students won't have to know."
Visibility is another approach at preventing bullying.
"Teachers are in the hallways at every class change. Sixth and seventh graders don't switch classes at the same times so they're not in the halls at the same times," Reynolds said. Bathroom monitors and other cameras have been installed in the school, too, Reynolds said. Teachers have lunchroom duty, plus they watch and listen in their own classrooms.
Generally, bullying for elementary students is tattle telling and then it works up to name calling and fighting, Bohannon said. Bullying in older grades is more of inclusion/exclusion -- when cliques are formed, he explained.
"It's not always, but often bullies don't feel good about themselves and are mad at the world. They lash out in anger. We try to reach out to them and try to handle the situation to get them to work on whatever it is that's bothering them," Reynolds said.
Reynolds said she's pleased with the overall improvement of the students' behavior since implementing character education, and she feels it will get even better with the bullying policy.
"I think the students know that bullying will not be tolerated here, and it's not OK," Reynolds said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.