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Educators gather in Mpls. to talk bullying prevention

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Hundreds of principals and other school leaders gathered in Minneapolis Monday to discuss strategies for preventing bullying in schools. Many of those strategies are based on new research into the subject. 

"You can get bullying to come down, but it takes a team - and it takes a long-term commitment," said researcher Marlene Snyder, of Clemson University in South Carolina.

Snyder researches on behalf of the Norway-based Olweus Bullying Prevention Program. Schools that use Olweus give their students a questionnaire that assesses the extent of bullying they experience.  Based on more than a half-million completed surveys nationwide, Snyder presented data on various aspects of bullying, including:

- More third graders (nearly 25 percent) report being bullied than 12th graders (about 10 percent).

- Verbal bullying is still the most prevalent form of bullying, but bullying online, or cyber-bullying, now accounts for about 4 percent of all bullying.  The difference between cyber-bullying and all other forms, Snyder noted, was the anonymity of online bullying.

- Most bullying occurs on the playground or in hallways and stairwells, but more bullying is still reported inside classrooms with teachers present than in bathrooms.  

Nearly 13 percent of Minnesota youth reported being bullied regularly during last year's Minnesota Student survey, but Snyder added it's important for school leaders to survey their own students to assess bullying in their buildings.

Olweus is partnering with Minnesota-based Hazelden, which is best known for its alcohol and substance abuse programs, to market the bullying program in the United States.  Hazelden was a sponsor of Monday's conference.

Research was also presented related to youths who commit suicide.  Maureen Greenwood, with the Society for the Prevention of Teen Suicide, noted that it's nearly impossible to establish a direct link between a bullying event and a suicide.  But she cited a 2007 paper in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry that found frequent exposure to bullying is related to higher rates of depression and suicidal thoughts in young people.

Fred Storti, executive director of the Minnesota Elementary School Principals Association, another sponsor of Monday's event, said the solution is rooted in an effort in which everybody in a school community is trained and educated.

 "And when I say everybody, we're talking bus drivers, the cooks, the custodians, the playground supervisors -- of course the teachers... and parents," he said. "So it really takes a whole school community to change the culture that it's not okay."

School leaders were also cautioned against expecting fast results.  Snyder added any good anti-bullying program will take three to 10 years to institutionalize, and switching to a new program each year will prove ineffective.  

With schools facing tight budgets and school leaders facing more demands every day, presenters also aimed to relay the importance of making bullying prevention a priority at each school. 

"The reason why schools need to own the problem, as it exists in their school, is because it impedes the purpose of a school, which is for children to learn," said Nancy Riestenberg, with the Minnesota Department of Education. 

"I don't think we're ever going to elminate bullying, but I think we could be quicker off the mark in intervening when we identify it."

About 400 people, including teachers, counselors, administrators, school psychologists and law enforcement officials, attended Monday's event in Minneapolis.  Organizers said they had to turn away more than 100 additional people who wanted to attend, so they're likely to plan a second bullying summit later this year.

Also on Monday, the White House announced it will hold its own Conference on Bullying Prevention on Thursday, March 10.