Lancaster – For many, the word "bully" brings back horrible childhood memories of being mentally, physically or verbally tortured in school. But, Ohio University Lancaster | Pickerington Communication Studies Assistant Professor Dr. Nicole Blau is making a difference in the community by taking away the power of bullies in one local middle school.
Three years ago, Blau incorporated a service-learning project in her conflict management class. She gave students a group project to work with local elementary and middle schools on dealing with the issue of bullying.
"I wanted my students to really get an idea about how to deal with conflict and what was going on in the real world," said Blau. "What resulted was a very successful anti-bullying day at Diley Middle School in Pickerington and we've continued working at that school every year since."
Blau and her students now plan and conduct the "Anti-Bullying Day" at Diley Middle School each fall. The event includes a keynote speaker, middle school students performing skits reflecting the types of bullying that are happening at their school and group reflection sessions to talk about the issues at hand.
"We're trying to get inside their head and reframe them psychologically. We're trying to get them to stop thinking that the bully is with the cool crowd so they're just going to do what the bully says so they won't get bullied," said Blau. "We're trying to reframe that so socially the bully is the one who is seen as the person who has no friends. The bully is not the cool person and no one wants to be around them. Just changing how they look at this has really decreased the incidences of bullying."
"It has been a pleasure partnering with Ohio University Lancaster | Pickerington students in addressing our Anti-Bullying efforts at Diley Middle School," said Diley Middle School Principal Heather Hedgepeth. "Students have become knowledgeable about how to address bullying situations in a positive manner. Many of our students have joined the Anti-Bullying club and have developed monthly activities to keep this topic in the forefront of the minds of students. One of our goals is to equip students with resources that will assist them if they are experiencing any type of bullying."
In May 2013, Blau received one of the Pickerington Education Association's Friend of Education Awards. She was selected for the award for the work she and her students have done at Diley Middle School. The PEA Friend of Education award is given to a person or group of people that genuinely help to improve the schools.
"It's an amazing feeling. When I first started this I thought I just wanted my students to learn something -- real life experience. I thought that we were going to go into this school and help this school, while teaching my students," said Blau. "My students loved it so much. Seeing them learn was amazing to me, but then this turned into something so much bigger than I had ever planned. I thought it would be a one semester project and that's it. But, it's turned into several years of hard work."
Blau and a graduate student are collecting data from the school to measure how well the anti-bullying program is working. So far, they are very pleased with the results.
"The incidents of bullying have gone down," said Blau. "We've shown that at least in this particular school bullying has gone down. Bullying is framed negatively and people just don't want to be involved in it."
But the research has also shown something else. It's something that Blau did not expect and something that has national implications.
"We're focusing on the wrong thing so to speak. That's what our research has shown," said Blau. "A lot of people think that most of the bullying these days is going on in cyber space. Bullying is definitely happening on Facebook, social networking, Instagram, and places like that. But, the majority of it is still not cyber bullying like we all think it is. The majority of it is still going on in the school bus. It's still going on at recess. It's going on in the bathrooms at schools. It's still happening at school."
Blau said she plans to go back to Diley Middle School this spring and collect more data. She is already making plans for the "Anti-Bullying Day" next fall. Blau would like to reach out more to parents and get them involved in the bullying discussion.
"We've really touched the lives of the middle school students, the faculty, staff, and administrators at Diley, and my students. We're starting to reach out into the community of Pickerington," said Blau. "I'm really excited to see what the future holds."
Making the Difference is a special Compass series highlighting the ways in which Ohio University staff and faculty are living their passion while making a difference – on campus, in the community, in their fields, and around the world.