Milaca takes new approach to bullying

Milaca High School teacher Colleen Bell
Milaca High School teacher Colleen Bell

Bullying at Milaca Public Schools will be receiving a new approach and prevention methods now that the district, in cooperation with Pearl Crisis Center, has adopted the Owleus program.

Owleus, developed by Norwegian Dr. Dan Owleus, is the oldest, the most researched and one of the most proven anti-bullying programs in the world. Twenty-some states and hundreds of school districts around the U.S. have adopted the program since the 1980s, with an average result of a significant reduction in student bullying incidents.

Pearl youth advocates and high school teacher Colleen Bell presented an overview of the program to the School Board at its last regular meeting in July.

“From all the studies that have been done, they’ve found bullying was reduced about 25 to 30 percent,” Pearl’s youth coordinator Tearza Jones told the board.

In some districts, bullying was reduced 50 to 70 percent after the Owleus program was implemented.

“It changes the entire atmosphere of the school,” Jones said.

Jones and fellow Pearl advocate Krista McFarland, Bell and other members of school staff attended training sessions in New Mexico. More will be trained in the upcoming months and years, and eventually, Bell hopes to become a certified trainer in the Owleus program. The five Pearl and District 912 employees who attended the initial training session will create a board to oversee its implementation.

“That committee will be the engine behind the Owleus program,” Bell said, adding that she would like to see a community-wide group as well that includes custodial and kitchen staff, along with parents, bus drivers and business professionals.

“It’s a comprehensive program. It’s putting a bunch of puzzle pieces together,” McFarland said. “We have to be united about it.”

Bell told the board that it will take time to fully realize the results of the Owleus program.

“It’s definitely not a cookie-cutter program,” she said. “We’re not going to be implementing it in a year. It’s a process.”

Part of that process is training teachers and staff how to react uniformly to bullying situations and effect similar consequences and expectations across the board.

“It will take a while to get the program going. All school staff need to be on the same page regarding their reaction to a bullying situation,” Jones said. “Also, the students need to get educated on bullying and what the program will ask of them. Everyone needs to be involved and on board. Even community members and parents play a key role in implementing the program. Bullying happens everywhere so having community members and parents trained as well will help reduce bullying incidents.”

Mille Lacs County Attorney Jan Jude also attended the School Board meeting to show her support of the program and to offer another avenue of community support for prevention methods.

“The county attorney’s office has wanted to implement an anti-bullying program from a law enforcement perspective,” Jude said. “What we want is to have the school refer students to us for our bullying program.”

Jude said this partnership will not only help reduce bullying in school, but it may help reduce the number of juvenile offenders her office prosecutes.

“What we often see is the victims of bullying who have finally lashed out, and now they’re in the criminal system,” she said. “We’re hoping that by working with these two programs together, that we can catch some of this behavior early on — before it becomes criminal.”