In a 2001 study of 15,000 students across the United States, 17 percent of students in grades six to ten reported having been bullied “sometimes” or more, with 8 percent being bullied once a week. In the 10 years since the study, bullying incidents have continued to rise.

BULLYING PREVENTION—From left: Matthew Masiello, Evan Frazier and Yvonne Cook discuss the results of Highmark’s 2011 report. (Photo by Gail Manker)

“Bullying is the most prevalent kind of violence in our schools,” said Matthew Masiello, chief medical officer and director of the Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention. “We are living in a more violent society than 10 or 20 years ago.”

However, in Pennsylvania, a statewide bullying prevention initiative supported by the Highmark Foundation has seen a decrease in the number of reported bullying incidents. According to the initiative’s most recent report “Bullying Prevention: The Impact on Pennsylvania School Children,” 13 percent of school students are experiencing a safer school climate.

“The results that are being released today have been especially gratifying for us. The foundation believes that it’s important to collect data and to report out. By having data it strengthens our work and sends a message that we are serious about community health,” said Yvonne Cook, president of the Highmark Foundation, at a press conference announcing the report. “We don’t have to accept a school climate where bullying abounds.”

According to the OBPP, bullying is aggressive behavior that involves unwanted, negative actions; involves a pattern of behavior repeated over time; and involves an imbalance of power or strength. This can include verbal bullying, social exclusion or isolation, physical bullying, bullying through lies and false rumors, having money or other things taken or damaged, being threatened or being forced to do things, as well as racial bullying, sexual bullying and cyber bullying.

Highmark’s bullying initiative is part of their $100 million Healthy High 5 campaign, a children’s health promotion initiative. Through a partnership with the Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention, Windber Research Institute, Center for Safe Schools and Clemson University, the initiative has seen the installment of the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program at more than 400 schools, reaching 13 percent of all Pennsylvania public schools.

“We strategically identified and worked with a variety of schools in Southwestern Pennsylvania,” Masiello said. “Thus at the end of the day, this Pennsylvania based coalition was able to implement the largest bullying prevention initiative in history.”

According to the report, the percentage of students being bullied two to three times per month decreased from 2008 to 2011 by 9.5 percent for elementary school children, 15 percent for middle school students and 12.7 percent for high school students. The percentage of students who reported bullying others also decreased.

“Researchers and educators have learned that to address bullying what’s really needed is a school wide approach,” said Sue Limber, professor, Institute on Family and Neighborhood Life, Clemson University. “We have found it’s very important to give kids clear expectations, not just to say you shouldn’t bully, but also what you should do if you see someone being bullied.”

Implementation of the OBPP involved a systematic effort to address bullying at the school level, classroom level, individual level and community level. To increase the effectiveness of Pennsylvania’s Bullying Prevention Network, Highmark supported a 28 percent increase in certified OBPP trainers, professional development and networking events to enhance training capabilities, increased technical assistance, and enhanced tracking and monitoring systems.

“We must build our success and engage other community stakeholders. We’ve learned so much about the harms bullying can cause. We now know that bullying is not just a right of passage that kids have to go through,” said Lynn Cromley, director of the Center for Safe Schools. “What we have discovered is that there are varying degrees of success that schools have.”

Highmark’s Healthy High 5 campaign addresses nutrition, physical activity, grieving, self-esteem and bullying prevention. The foundation has devoted $20 million to the five-year bullying prevention initiative, which began in 2007.

“We remain committed to this idea of bullying prevention. We know there is going to be a continuing, ongoing commitment,” said Evan Frazier, senior vice president of community affairs, Highmark Inc. “While we know there’s a lot work that needs to be done, we’re really pleased with some of the successes we’ve seen.”

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