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Community/Faith Community Initiatives

Note: Ideally, towns and communities will support school-based anti-bullying initiatives with campaigns of active involvement and support. Such campaigns - which can be modeled on successful anti-smoking initiatives - should ideally involve all town/community instituions: business, police, media, etc. But strongest base for such anti-bullying campaigns may lie in the town's faith communities. This will occasionally be problematic, e.g., if a faith community is not inclusive/supportive of certain groups, for example, but usually a town or community's 'interfaith clergy alliance' (or similar) will be well positioned and structured to lead such a campaign. And bullying is (ought to be) a natural, compatible issue for faith communities. Ensuring peace and support for all children is (ought to be) a fundamental religious activity and goal. Having said this, we are aware of very few examples of such town-wide, faith-community based initiatives specific to bullying. Our archive describes one such (limited) effort in one NJ town, but this initiative has been inactive since at least '05. The idea was promising - especially a 'Sabbath Weekend for Bullying Awareness', which was held in some of the town's congregations - but has not gone anywhere since.

If you are interested in the concept, and/or it is underway in your community, please contact us so we can spread the word and/or if we can provide any help, information or support.

Stuart Green

NJ Coalition for Bullying Awareness and Prevention

(908) 522-2581

njbullying@yahoo.com


Latest Update - (10/05): 

(1) Progress is slow, as learning from the Cranford experience indicates. The school district continues its Olweus program implemention but the town campaign itself has been quiet - the last townwide bullying-related activity occurrred in spring '05. A hoped-for mid-October meeting of town leaders did not occur, and planning for another townwide activity - a showing of the video "Let's Get Real" - has still not started. Barriers appear to be the sheer busy-ness of the small number of people on which such an initiative relies.

(2) Montclair, Hackensack and Cherry Hill are other towns in which efforts toward a townwide approach to bullying appear to be underway (there are undoubtedly more towns, not mentioned - if yours is one of them, please contact us). More information will be obtained and provided. If you're aware of a NJ town in which efforts are being made to support anti-bullying initiatives, beyond the walls of the school building, contact us at njbullying@yahoo.com.

(3) Good news is recent notice that the state's Human Relations Commission is taking steps to adopt and promote the town model initiative. A first meeting to discuss the initiative has not yet taken place but is apparently pending. For further information, contact the Coalition (njbullying@yahoo.com) or Dr. Joan Rivitz (drjoanr@aol.com).


(6/05):

In Cranford, NJ - the town described in the note below - the school district has begun working with one of NJ's two certified U.S. Olweus Team trainers to implement a 'whole school' model addressing bullying. The significance of this development is that the Olweus team certification process has only recently reached NJ and this is the first such implementation in the state.* While the contract does not guarantee that bullying will be completely addressed in the implementation site school/s (see below for a review of various important issues), it is the best available approach and Cranford (and its school district superintendent, Dr. Lawrence Feinsod, deserves much credit for taking the step.

     * (See Resources page for more information on Dan Olweus and the whole school model. In short, Olweus is the psychologist whose groundbreaking work in Norway over 30 years ago began the transition to a scientific understanding of bullying; his intervention model - 'whole school' or 'systemic', as it is known - is the most evidence-based approach to school bullying we currently have. While there are no perfect solutions for bullying yet, and more research is urgently needed, and new approaches continue to evolve, more widespread implementation of the Olweus model is widely acknowledged - most importantly by researchers - as the best tool we presently have for ending children's suffering from bullying. )

     * There are currently 2 certified Olweus trainers in NJ: Leisa-Anne Smith of NJ State Bar Foundation (732 937-7517), and Jeanette Collins of NJ Child Assault Prevention (856 582-7000 or jcollins@eirc.org). Cranford is working with Jeanette.  The implementation cost is $3,000, which would be a modest outlay for most school districts. For information about what the money buys, see the Olweus team website (www.clemson.edu/olweus/). PLEASE NOTE: It is not absolutely necessary to spend $3000 or more to obtain the services of a certified trainer or any other paid consultant to effectively address bullying. All the information needed to effectively address bullying is widely available, most of it for free or very low cost, in the scientific and public health literature, and in published books, including by Olweus and many other experts (see the Resources page, this site). In NJ, free and effective anti-bullying training for school staff is available through the NJ State Bar Foundation and - at a modest cost - from NJ CAP and other participating Coalition organizations.

    * Moreover, the key factors in effectively addressing bullying - whatever the quality of the consultant - is the degree of commitment from school leadership, the extent to which school staff - especially teachers - support the intervention, and how long (ideally at least 3 years) the focus on bullying intervention is very actively maintained. The ultimate goal is to change the culture of the school so that bullying is continuously addressed at every level. The effort is worth it because it is the major cause of childhood suffering in school and it impacts and impairs school performance in every way.

     

In addition to the new Olweus implementation in Cranford, the town itself - with school district participation - has been developing a campaign against bullying, described below:

Other NJ towns (as well as nationally) are of course addressing the issue as well. We know Cranford best because the Coalition has been directly involved, but other towns may be doing as much, or more. Please contact us (at 908 522-2581, at stuart.green@ahsys.org, or through the website's home page forms) and let us know what your town is doing, so we can describe and promote other models.


A Town Model (Community/Faith Community) Project: Cranford, NJ

Background:

     In 2003, after a presentation about bullying by NJ Coalition for Bullying Awareness and Prevention to the Cranford (NJ) Interfaith Clergy Council, the Council decided to designate childhood bullying as its community initiative for the coming year. A Clergy Council planing group began meeting to identify town needs and to plan activities. Early in the process, there was outreach to the public school district and to the town's private schools, all of whom agreed to participate. A collaborative meeting occurred between the Clergy Council and the public school district's Superintendent of Schools (Dr. Lawrence Feinsod) at which the school district agreed to participate in planned activities. As a consequence, Anne Marie Francis, the school district's coordinator of character education activities, became a member of the planning group. The group took the name, 'Cranford Cares About Bullying' (CCAB), with the approval of Randy Ross, coordinator of the 'NJ Cares About Bullying' campaign conducted by the state's Office of Bias Crime and Community Relations.

     CCAB decided to conduct, as its first activity, a NJ Coalition suggestion, a 'Sabbath Weekend for Bullying Awareness'. Under the leadership of Rabbi Akiba Lubow, chair of the Clergy Council and community leader of CCAB, the Sabbath Weekend was held in October 2004. The plan for the weekend was that all of the town's major faith communities/congregations would participate in two ways: all of the congregation leaders (e.g., pastors, rabbi, etc.) would address childhood bullying in a sermon, and all of the youth activities that weekend (e.g., religious classes, groups, etc.) would focus on bullying. NJ Coalition suggested - and the planning group agreed - that one new book, Say Something, by Peggy Moss, would be appropriate for all ages, though aimed at a younger audience. (The book is a short but powerful combination of words and pictures which emphasize the important role child bystanders play in either supporting or helping to prevent bullying, a perspective which was considered especially appropriate for faith community-involved children.) Two of the planning group members - Rhondi Solomon and Anne Marie Francis - created a youth curriculum from the book and copies of the book were purchased for each congregation (one copy for each), with Clergy Council funds. A folder about bullying was created, using materials from NJ Coalition and also from the national campaign ('Take a Stand, Lend a Hand, Stop Bullying Now'). Flyers about the Weekend were distributed around town, posters and materials about bullying (courtesy of NJ Cares About Bullying, and NJ State Bar Foundation) were provided to each congregation, the town's Township Committee designated a 'Bullying Awareness Week' in Cranford which included a proclamation by the Mayor, Barbara Bilger, and a presentation and short talk by Rabbi Lubow, the campaign's community leader, at a Township Committee meeting, covered by the town's TV-35. On the weekend itself (October 23-24, 2004), several of the town's congregations (not all, as planned) indeed presented sermons on the topic, and bullying awareness-focused youth activities in those congregations and a few others did take place.

     As its next activity, CCAB decided to conduct a town showing of the play 'New Kid', a powerful bullying awareness-themed play for children and parents developed by the George St. Playhouse of New Brunswick. With Anne Marie Francis of Cranford's Public School District as project leader, CCAB made arrangements with George St.'s educational arm and traveling theater to present 'New Kid' in Cranford. The school district offered its 800-seat Orange Ave. School auditorium as the venue, and NJ State Bar Foundation, which supports George St. Playhouse's educational activities, provided full funding for the production. The activity was co-sponsored by the Interfaith Clergy Council, Cranford School District, NJ State Bar Foundation, NJ Cares About Bullying and the Union County Prosector's Office Anti-Bullying Task Force and by Cranford's Counseling Center for Human Development. The school district's co-sponsorship not only provided the venue, but also meant that flyers about the event were sent home with all school children, that homework credit was offered to children who went and did related assignments, and that Ms. Gorski (Orange Avenue School Principal) and other school staff participated. On the day of the event, over 500 parents and children showed up, and in addition to seeing the play, were provided a full range of bullying-related materials from the various organizations involved, and after the play engaged in a discussion (Q and A, from the children) with the cast.

     CCAB's next planned activity is a showing of the video, "Let's Get Real," (www.groundspark.org), in Fall 2005.

 


NJ Update 6/04: Town Model

Town models are beginning to move forward and attract interest. The one of which I'm most aware, since I'm involved with it, is Cranford Cares About Bullying (CCAB). After a long, slow period of development, it is starting to move. There is a commitment and plan to holding a 'Sabbath Weekend' this fall and a town-wide youth activity this spring, featuring a performance of New Kid (the powerful play about bullying from George St. Playhouse, in New Brunswick). The idea of the Sabbath Weekend is that on one designated weekend, all of the participating faith community leaders in the town will concurrently address the issue of childhood (and perhaps adult, as well) bullying in their sermons and other activities. This should draw strong attention from the media and the community, and lead to further faith-community-based bullying awareness activity. The campaign, which is sponsored by the Cranford Interfaith Clergy Council, will provide the faith community leaders with materials about bullying, including the national campaign handouts mentioned above (one of which is written specifically for faith communities). There are also 2 new books which address bullying from a spiritual/religious perspectives (both from a Christian perspective, only): Bullying as a Spiritual Crisis, and Confronting the Demon (which is primarily about adult bullying). While neither book is perfect, from an evidence-based point of view, they nonetheless represent an important advance in awareness of the importance of the issue.


NJ Update 4/04: Faith Community Town Model

More faith community groups are becoming involved in this issue. We've received a growing number of requests for talks to religious groups about bullying, two books about bullying 'as a spiritual crisis' has been published recently, the first as far as we know. And in Cranford (and perhaps other towns of which we're not aware), the Interfaith Clergy Council has begun a town-wide campaign, called 'Cranford Cares About Bullying' (name used with the permission of the state's NJ Cares About Bullying campaign).

 

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