Albert Lea school district hosts anti-bullying workshop

Published 10:55 pm Thursday, November 1, 2018

Community members at Thursday night’s No Bully workshop didn’t get an immediate solution. Instead, they got a Solutions Team.

The Solutions Team is one aspect of the nonprofit No Bully program co-sponsored by ESPN and Major League Baseball. The program’s mission is to eradicate bullying and cyberbullying worldwide.

According to Jennifer Brevoort — the No Bully trainer with a master’s in urban education and experience with professional development in schools who led Thursday’s workshop at Southwest Middle School for approximately 30 parent attendees — No Bully is less concerned with punitive action for everybody and more concerned with restorative action for everybody. While the school will continue to deliver consequences, Brevoort said, the intention of the program is to add to the toolbox of parents, students and teachers on how they can address bullying.

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“We can’t say this enough: bullying is a power struggle between kids,” Brevoort said. “And so our goal when we’re trying to end bullying is to help targets take their power back. We want to give them the opportunity to take it back so that they sort of heal from that experience.”

Part of that process is the Solutions Team. With the consent of a student being bullied, the Solutions Team is made up of fellow students who are called in and given opportunities to step up into a supportive role in the bullied student’s life.

That group includes students who may be part of the problem, because Brevoort said children draw their dynamic from the group they’re in, and being a part of that group changes the dynamic from which students who bully draw power. This method also helps students understand they have a big leadership capacity, she said.

Those leading the Solutions Team are school staff with whom students are already comfortable speaking and who have no role in discipline in the school. Niebuhr said in Albert Lea Area Schools, those roles will start to be filled with school counselors and social workers. Between Albert Lea High School and Southwest Middle School, approximately 10 people were set to participate in the training Friday. Leadership teams at the two schools also met with Brevoort Thursday.

Niebuhr said the intention in working with No Bully is to focus on the middle and high schools.

“We really felt we were lacking something at the secondary (level),” she said.

The partnership with No Bully began in May and, thanks to a grant from ESPN, will continue through the year. Niebuhr said the district is considering the program’s effectiveness as they consider how or whether to continue with No Bully in subsequent years.

Brevoort asked the community to have patience as teachers learn the new model.

“This is fairly new for the district, and so this is a learning curve that they’re all working on,” she said.

Niebuhr said discussions among teachers showed staff are still working on the concept of interrupting negative student behavior.

“We have staff who have those skills and we have staff who don’t have those skills,” she said.

Still, according to Brevoort, Albert Lea Area Schools is on pace.

“It’ll take a while to roll this out,” she said. “It takes every school a while to roll this out. And I want to be really clear that Albert Lea is right on track with what we expect of this model, because it takes five or six times to hear this idea and fuse it into everything else that’s happening.”

Brevoort will return to work with the district again in the spring, Niebuhr said. Some of her upcoming work will include taking a look at the district’s bullying policy, which Brevoort said looks fairly good, and working on protocol. Both Niebuhr and Brevoort said No Bully is intended to work with other initiatives the district already has in place.

Annette Hansen’s daughter is a 10th-grader in the district who has experienced bullying.

“What they have been doing isn’t working,” she said of the district’s methods.

The workshop’s message gave her one takeaway.

“Hope,” she said. “There’s hope.”

About Sarah Kocher

Sarah covers education and arts and culture for the Tribune.

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