Points of Pride - Lafayette Elementary School

Points of Pride - Lafayette Elementary School

Wanda Suarez, principal of Lafayette Elementary School in Lancaster city, beams as she shows me the numerous awards the school has received. They’re all displayed in the school’s new entrance lobby. And Lafayette has just received another one: they are the first urban school in the United States to become a “Certified Olweus School,” for their comprehensive implementation of the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program (OBPP), and one of only four schools in the US to have achieved this distinction.

The Olweus program is a nationally recognized program backed by over 35 years of research. The program has been proven to reduce up to 50 percent of student reports of being bullied and bullying others. It was developed in the early 1980’s by Dr. Dan Olweus and is now used in over 6000 schools across the US.

Olweus promotes long-term, systemic change to prevent bullying at four levels: school, individual, classroom and community. All school staff, from administrators and teachers to janitors, bus drivers, cafeteria workers, and coaches receive training and all are involved in implementing and sustaining the program. Students are taught about bullies, victims and bystanders, how to recognize each in a bullying situation and what to do if they witness bullying. Olweus also engages parents and the broader community.

Lafayette Elementary started their Olweus program in 2008. From the beginning, teachers, administrators and staff had to be on board with it, as well as the students and parents.

“It’s about changing the culture in both the school and in the community,” Suarez explains. “We have to have a safe environment within the school so that learning can happen.” Lafayette teachers and staff model the principles of Olweus in their everyday work, through classroom meetings, meetings with parents and a monthly “Pride Night” where school staff, parents and students are invited into the school every third Thursday night for positive activities, presentations by guest speakers, games and fun. Students wear their “Lafayette Pride” T-shirts with the anti-bullying pledge printed on the back (see photo).

As Principal Suarez took me on a tour of the school, that Lafayette pride was evident everywhere in the way students, teachers and staff interacted with each other, in classrooms, in the hallway, even on the playground.

“All of us, teachers, staff and students, work very hard at making sure we have a positive school climate here,” she explained. That’s no small task in a school with 551 students from preschool to fifth grade. Lafayette is one of the largest elementary schools in the School District of Lancaster, and 81.6% of Lafayette’s students come from economically disadvantaged families. There’s tremendous diversity here too: 52% of Lafayette students are Latino, 23% are African American, 22% are Caucasian and 3% are Asian.

Funding for Lafayette’s Olweus program comes from the Highmark “Healthy High Five” Foundation grant. But the time, energy and passion for it clearly has to come from the teachers and staff.

“With all the demands put on schools for AYP and PSSA’s and academics, there sometimes aren’t enough hours in the day,” Suarez observes, “but we carve out the time for professional development on Olweus because this is essential. We need to invest in creating a safe, structured, predictable environment so that kids can learn.”

Bullying prevention programs are one of two “research-based prevention practices” that the American Psychological Association’s Zero Tolerance Task Force recommended as alternatives to zero tolerance policies in schools. (the other alternative to zero tolerance that is recommended by the APA task force is restorative justice)

Research on Olweus has found these additional benefits:
• Marked reductions in student reports of general antisocial behavior, such as vandalism, fighting, theft, and truancy.
• Clear improvements in the classroom social climate, as reflected in students’ reports of improved order and discipline, more positive social relationships, and more positive attitudes toward schoolwork

In fact, the Olweus program has been recognized by the Blueprints Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence as an exemplary program.
“Our implementation of Olweus is evolving,” says Suarez. “We don’t claim that we have no bullying. We do. But we’re actively addressing it. We’re very structured about how we’re addressing it.”

Their structured approach includes having key adults in the school work with both the child(ren) who are doing the bullying as well as the child(ren) being bullied. They also work very closely with the parents of the children involved in any bullying incident.

Cindy Morris, School Counselor at Lafayette, adds, “We have to pay attention to the family structure and norms in the child’s home and neighborhood. We’re asking our students to change ways in which they have interacted in the past. Lots of communication with the parents and students, and setting clear expectations are key. It’s a challenge we’re proud to say our school community is meeting.”

Principal Suarez concludes, “We do not claim to have all the answers. We know that even with what worked last year, we have a whole new group of kids here this year. So it’s constantly evolving. We’ll continue to be proactive.”


October is National Bullying Prevention month

How to help your child deal with bullying


Schools and “zero tolerance”

Restorative justice in schools

Peer mediation in schools

I’ll be writing more about innovative programs in our schools in future blog posts. I also write about a variety of people & organizations making a positive difference in the community.
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Posted by Melanie Tagged as: city life lancaster pa peace

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