Teachers attend anti-bully class | AspenTimes.com

Teachers attend anti-bully class

Jennifer Davoren
Aspen Times Staff Writer

The second phase of a comprehensive anti-bullying program will hit the valley’s public schools this week.

The program, sponsored by the Aspen Center for New Medicine as well as the Aspen and RE-1 school districts, will help a new generation learn empathy for their peers, organizers say.

The program was pioneered by author SuEllen Fried ? a nationally acclaimed bully prevention expert who visited Aspen in October for the course’s first phase.

The first round of prevention assemblies focused on students and their daily interactions, exposing children to the hidden dangers of bullying.

The second round of prevention presentations focuses on teachers.

Instructors from Aspen, Basalt, Carbondale and Glenwood Springs have convened in Carbondale this week to take part in a three-day training course on Fried’s program.

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The training’s importance has grown, instructors say, since the 1999 shootings at Columbine High School in Littleton. Investigators said the two perpetrators went on the killing spree due to years of taunting from classmates.

Such teasing was once regarded as harmless by parents and administrators.

Since the Columbine shootings, a child’s “emotional security” is closely guarded by school administrators, said Lynn Bair, assistant principal at Carbondale Middle School.

Their emotional well-being, Bair said, has proven to be just as important as their physical well-being when it comes to day-to-day instruction.

“We dealt more with physical harm and not with the emotional safety of students,” Bair said of previous anti-bullying efforts. “If their emotional security is taken care of, they’ll do better in school.”

Bair, who has been active in the program’s introduction over the past few months, said Fried’s presentations had a noticeable effect on the students.

The author discusses bullying’s ultimate effect, evident in the tragedy at Columbine, but she also provokes students into admitting their own bullying experiences.

The power of some presentations results in apologies from both bully and victim, attendees say.

“SuEllen does some introduction with the kids. She has some fabulous stories that grab the kids’ attention,” she said. “She brings some pretty sobering stories.”

The presentations cause teachers to re-evaluate their individual school programs, Bair said.

“We want to start looking at, ‘Are we consistent with every student? Are we paying attention to all the various forms of bullying?'” she said.

Once the teachers’ three-day training course is completed, they will return to their schools and pass on the knowledge they have gained. Seven teachers from the Aspen School District, for example, will return to their institutions later this week to train others.

The new anti-bullying program will be in place by the holiday break later this month, Bair said.

The Aspen School District is just as optimistic about the program’s effect.

Betsy Fifield, chair of the Children’s Initiative at the Aspen Center for New Medicine, talked with members of the Aspen School Board Monday night during her presentation on the bullying program.

Fifield, along with a handful of teachers who attended Monday’s meeting, hope the new program will result in positive changes in the valley’s students.

“I think it’s a program that’s going to produce results,” Fifield said.

[Jennifer Davoren’s e-mail address is jenniferd@aspentimes.com]