$2.66 million grant from the National Institute of Justice has been allocated to Virginia Commonwealth University associate professor of psychology Terri Sullivan to head a study of the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program, a Norwegian school-based bullying prevention initiative.
There were nearly 5,000 reported incidents of bullying during the 2012-13 school year in Virginia alone, according to an annual report by the Virginia Department of Education. Of that number, more than 1,000 incidents were reported in Region I (which includes Richmond and surrounding areas); 387 of those were reported in Richmond schools — the highest number in the region — followed by 323 reported incidents in Henrico schools.
The focus of the study is to determine the effectiveness of the Olweus program in preventing youth violence and bullying by observing three Richmond middle schools. The program increases awareness of bullying issues among the student body and involves regular teacher-led classroom meetings during a free period in which discussion can occur. There’s also a teaching aspect in which parents are encouraged to be involved and aware of bullying issues, and teachers are annually trained on how to handle situations.
The study will expand upon a research project already in place by VCU’s Clark-Hill Institute for Positive Youth Development. Led by VCU psychology professor Albert Farrell and funded by a grant from the Centers for Disease Control that expires this year, the project has been collecting data on the Olweus program from teachers and students at Thompson and Elkhardt middle schools since 2010. The new study will now include T.C. Boushall Middle School.
“We’re doing a lot of things, mainly gathering the data and analyzing it to find if we are seeing positive changes, changes in … student behavior [and] school climate,” Sullivan says.
The study also will evaluate how the program is being implemented in Richmond schools and how sustainable it is. A benefit of being able to expand on already completed research is an examination of changes in outcomes after a period of several years.
Ultimately, the research will assist in determining the anti-bullying program’s effectiveness not only in Richmond, but in other schools using it across the country. VCU School of Education professor Kevin Sutherland and Sullivan are hoping that a byproduct of their study of the Olweus program will be the increased scrutiny of other school initiatives. “The lesson is really trying to identify a lot of programs that have a high likelihood of actually working,” Sullivan says, adding that this prevents misuse of funding and limited resources within schools.