Anti-bullying success in Sanger

FRESNO, Calif.

The president's message has already been heard in Sanger, where a special program has attacked bullying for a couple years now.

The Sanger school district is trying to head off the problem while kids are still young, by changing the social norms to make bullying socially unacceptable. Action News talked to some middle schoolers who say it's working.

President Obama brainstormed bullying prevention with 150 people at the White House Thursday.

At Sanger's Washington Academic Middle School, they may already have an answer.

Anti-bullying messages surround students in the hallways, in the classrooms, and even on the floors.

"We start with a visual message," said the school's psychologist Mitch Casados. "We want to make sure the message of anti-bullying is completely salient. That it's everywhere. They see it."

Teachers and administrators instituted the Olweus bullying prevention program two years ago. It emphasizes bullying awareness and adult involvement so the kids know they have backup if they get involved in stopping a bully.

"Since you know there are so many signs and so many people with you on it, it's easier to come out and say 'no more bullying,'" said eighth grader Anthony Pimentel.

But the program goes beyond slogans and rules on a wall. Administrators figure out hot spots for bullying and turn them into bully-free zones with patrolling adults. And teachers talk to their classes every week about the behavior that's expected of them.

"We wanted a comprehensive approach," Casados said. "We didn't want a firefighter approach where we're just stamping out bullying here and there."

Eighth graders who've been through the program say they have seen a big improvement and they've learned how to handle it when they see bullying situations.

"Physical bullying, I really don't do anything, but if there was, I would go tell an adult instead of getting into it," Pimentel said. "But verbal bullying, I have stopped it a couple times before."

"How do you do that?" asked an Action News reporter.

"Just say 'Cut it out. Leave them alone,' and they'll usually go away," said Pimentel.

In school districts across the country, the Olweus program has been shown to cut the number of bullying reports by 15% or more -- even as it encourages kids to report every instance of bullying.

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