Bullying and harassment is an epidemic in US schools, victimizing nearly one out of three middle and high school students each year.
Washington, DC, Friday, August 13, 2010— Bullying and harassment is an epidemic in US schools, victimizing nearly one out of three middle and high school students each year. For nearly 3 million high schoolers, that includes physical abuse by other students— tripping, pushing, spitting or worse. But the Institute for Advancing Unity, a Sacramento-based education organization, has helped some California schools make drastic reductions in harassment and disciplinary problems. On August 11 and 12, the Institute’s Board President Genevieve Shiroma shared that success with other organizational, government and academic leaders at a first of its kind Federal summit in Washington, D.C.
Part of the Obama Administration's effort to craft a new national anti-bullying strategy, the Federal Partners in Bullying Prevention Summit brought together 150 delegates this week to share data and develop new solutions to stop bullying and harassment. In an address to the summit, US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan called the current figures on school bullying “a travesty of our educational system,” and suggested that “Just as you have gateway drugs, bullying is gateway behavior” to more violent incidents. Duncan said the summit would “collect the most knowledgeable experts on the issue of bullying in America in one place, at one time, to get the best thinking about what needs to be done to bring this plague to an end.”
The Institute for Advancing Unity's invitation to the summit reflects its growing success with bullying prevention. Already the Institute’s anti-bullying and school climate initiatives have served elementary, middle, and high schools in California, including Sacramento, San Francisco, Elk Grove, Galt, Petaluma, Riverside, Los Angeles, and will include San Bernardino this fall. The Institute collaborates with other national partners working to make schools safer and more successful.
Focusing on youth is part of the Institute for Advancing Unity’s overall mission to build unity in schools and communities, said Robert M. Harris, Ph.D., CEO of the Institute. “In California, nearly 37% of middle and high school students were bullied or physically assaulted at school, and about 75% of these experiences were bias-related,” Harris said in an interview, citing result from the California Healthy Kids Survey. “When students learn to recognize the consequences of prejudice and violence, and are taught concrete tools they can use to stop them, they will start to make choices that build unity and prevent issues like bullying and harassment. Our role is to help schools and communities empower young people, and to ensure they have measureable results.”
For the Institute for Advancing Unity, those results include identifying and facilitating a range of youthcentered programs for both teachers and students. One of these programs, called Challenge Day, being profiled now on MTV's series If You Really Knew Me. Another program, Community Matters’ Safe School Ambassadors, trains student leaders to stop mistreatment. Ambassadors have reported weapons and defused conflicts in a number of area schools.
Alongside its work in schools, the Institute is also building an education and research center in Sacramento. Two blocks from the State Capitol, the Institute’s UNITY Lab facility will provide educators and policymakers with relevant research, and employ innovative, experiential techniques teach young people practical skills to foster harmony. Secretary Duncan said the work of organizations like the Institute for Advancing Unity is essential. “Community organizations have an important role to play—to work with schools to provide students with more opportunities,” he said. “And if you build it they will come. Teens are looking for structure and positive activities to engage in.”
"The summit exceeded our highest expectations as our partners came prepared with brilliant ideas,” said Kevin Jennings, assistant deputy secretary for the Department's Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools. “We will compile those ideas and use them as a framework to map out a national anti-bullying strategy in the coming weeks and months.” Jennings hopes that school officials will take immediate action as the 2010-2011 school year begins.
In the meantime, parents and teachers concerned about bullying can visit the Department of Education’s ‘one stop shops’ for anti-bullying resources at www.bullyinginfo.org, and http://www.stopbullyingnow.hrsa.gov.
About The Institute
The Institute for Advancing Unity is an education organization that promotes policies, programs and opportunities to improve school climates, eliminate prejudice and violence, and institutionalize unity as a community value. Our approach combines effective bullying prevention programs and youth development practices in a comprehensive model aimed at creating a school climate where bullying is unacceptable, understanding and inclusiveness are cultural norms, and students feel empowered to be champions of unity.