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District schools host contest to thwart bullying

By Carley Dangona

WEST SPRINGFIELD — At its regular meeting on March 12, the School Committee recognized Harrison Sloat from Fausey Elementary School, Raya Denny from West Springfield Middle School and Katie Silver from West Springfield High School as the winners of the inaugural Bullying Prevention and Intervention Poster Contest.

The three posters will be reproduced for display in classrooms. Information sheets about bullying prevention will accompany the posters for teachers to share with students, as part of the school district's effort to decrease bullying, according to Superintendent Dr. Russell Johnston.

The posters were chosen at each grade level. Johnston stated there were 55 entries at the elementary level, six at the middle school level and 65 at the high school level. To narrow the selection, the school district enlisted the help of town employees to vote for their favorites after viewing the posters on display in the Town Hall. Once the finalists were chosen, the Bullying Task Force met to select the winning illustrations.

"Addressing the issue of bullying is an ongoing process," Johnston told Reminder Publications. "We keep visiting the topic and don't ever consider ourselves to be done. Because there are issues we need to continue working to find new and innovative ways to address the issue and keep the anti-bullying message alive."

Johnston explained that the Commonwealth required all school districts to create a Bullying Prevention & Intervention Plan by 2011. The Bullying Task Force meets quarterly in a constant attempt to address the issue. He noted that while bullying exists within the West Springfield school system, the incidents are not prevalent or frequent.

"Being an active bystander is the most important aspect of bullying prevention," he said. "Students need to stand up to the aggressor and let him or her know that bullying isn't tolerated."

Johnston continued, "Training students is a powerful entity to change the culture." He stated that the Quabbin Mediation Training Active Bystanders (TAB) program has been implemented at the middle and high school levels.

He continued, "Everyone is exposed to the program because the student leaders visit all classrooms four times a year. The TAB leaders are an eclectic mix of students, enabling the program to reach many."

In addition to the training, a reporting program is in place for bullying incidents, where students can report occurrences by phone, email or mail.

"We have to have bullying reported," Johnson said. "While incidents are handled at the school level, all reports come across my desk. Even if the bullying is alleged, we want people to fill out the form so we can investigate."

The Key Communicator Program (KCP) is another tool the district uses in its efforts to minimize bullying. Johnston said the first issue the group will tackle is cyber-bullying, to promote proper "digital citizenship."

The information will be distributed through the use of informational flyers that will be readily available for parents at happenings such as open houses and sporting events.

Currently 14 people are part of KCP. Its first meeting is slated for April, but a date has yet to determined.

For more information on bullying prevention, the task force and a resource list, visit www.wsps.org and click "Bullying Prevention" in the main menu. Contact Erin Mountain at mountain@wsps.org or 263-3290 to join KCP.

For more details about the TAB program, go to http://quabbinmediation.org.

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