District 65 to fight bullying with recess activities, canteen training

In a District 65 survey of students in grades three through eight, 24% said they had been called mean or teased names. (Photo by Bessie Mbadugha)

As students in the Evanston/Skokie 65 School District have reacclimated to in-person learning this year, there has been an increase in reports of bullying.

Elijah Palmer, the district’s dean of culture and climate, told the school board’s curriculum committee in December that “families reached out daily with allegations of bullying,” each requiring a lengthy investigation.

In his report, presented at a committee meeting on December 6, he mentioned his request to schools to clarify the definition of bullying with families, in order to minimize unnecessary investigations into isolated incidents: “Communication is aimed not to minimize the aggressive act, but to be able to define if it was a fight or an assault or if it is repeated over a period of time and involves an imbalance of power to qualify bullying.

the District 65 Student Handbook offers a more detailed definition of bullying, which includes cyberbullying, and a list of criteria for differentiating a social conflict from a bullying situation.

The District 65 handbook’s comparison of “social conflict” and “bullying.”

Students’ perception of the climate of bullying

During the committee meeting on Monday, February 7, Palmer shared an update on the results of the student survey conducted as part of the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program.

Adopted by the district to reduce and prevent bullying in its schools, the program “has been shown to be effective in reducing bullying among students, improving the social climate of classrooms, and reducing related antisocial behaviors such as truancy,” Palmer said. The anti-bullying program has been implemented in more than 1,000 schools in the United States, according to Palmer.

The survey, conducted among the district’s third to eighth grade population, revealed the following:

  • 24% of students reported being insulted, teased or teased in a hurtful way in class or at school.
  • 20% of students said they were deliberately left out of their friend groups or just completely ignored.
  • 17% of students reported being hit, kicked, pushed or shoved, or locked out of a room or building at school.
  • 14% of students said other students told lies or spread false rumors about them in class or at school.
  • 9% of students said they had been bullied by mean or hurtful messages via text, call, or online by a student in class or at school.

Students reported that the majority of incidents occur on the playground, during the gym or in the lunch room. Palmer said there is a need for more supervision in these places, as well as training teachers and staff in the ability to recognize signs of bullying.

In the survey, 27% of students said an adult or teacher was able to stop bullying, compared to 20% of students who said their peers were able to stop bullying. Students also expressed empathy, with 88% saying they felt sorry for those who were bullied.

Palmer announced that the district has signed a contract with Playworks, a non-profit organization that provides personalized playtime to encourage activity while simultaneously fostering “life skills ranging from conflict resolution to leadership.” Additionally, the program will provide training for dining room supervisors on how to prevent bullying, as well as how to recognize, defuse and deal with incidents that do occur, according to Palmer.

Palmer said the first six schools to participate in the Playworks program were selected based on cultural and climatic data, with the aim of giving “the canteen supervisor and the schools more tools for their toolbox to ‘try to avoid the bullying situation’. He added that the initial rollout would give the district an opportunity to better understand the program and gauge its success in those six schools.

Stating that the district has a “historic challenge of over-identifying students of color in many categories,” council member Biz Lindsay-Ryan called for further examination of the possible role bullying may play in truancy. and truancy, which disproportionately affects students of color.

Lindsay-Ryan said when students are absent because they feel school is not a safe place for them, the problem is further compounded by the loss of learning due to absences. She called for an analysis to determine whether absenteeism occurs because students do not feel a sense of belonging or safety at school.

Student Voices on Diversity and Inclusion

At Monday’s committee meeting, Donna Cross, director of the district’s Multilevel Support System and Social-Emotional Learning, shared the results of a Panorama Education Survey designed to learn students’ perceptions of the district’s equity effort and how it affects them.

Cross said favorable student responses to questions about diversity and inclusion remained the same as last fall at 83%, placing the district in the 90th percentile nationally.

Favorable responses to questions about cultural awareness and action increased from 79% last fall to 69% this fall, but this level was still in the 90th percentile. Teacher-student relations have also increased from 76% to 69% last year, which is in the 60th percentile. Student sense of belonging was 52%, relatively unchanged from 53% last year, and ranked in the 40th percentile. Similarly, student engagement was 38% last fall and 37% this fall, ranking in the 30th percentile.

Cross included the graph below in his presentation, showing deviations from the averages as positive or negative numbers. Compared to white students, students of color expressed less satisfaction with diversity and inclusion, teacher-student relationships, general well-being, and social-emotional learning.

(Source: District 65 Presentation)

Additionally, Cross pointed out that data shows that a sense of belonging and engagement decreases as students enter the upper grades of middle school.

“Something we need to focus on in our upper classes is building that sense of belonging,” Cross said.

Lindsay-Ryan said she enjoys conversations about these issues, saying, “I think belonging is such a critical component to how everyone feels about their day in a District 65 building. … If these numbers are not where we want them to be for students, it also affects the staff experience and affects their mental health.

(Source: District 65 Presentation)

Cross said the survey responses were anonymous to encourage honest student assessment. The open-ended questions also allowed students to share their knowledge. For example, when asked what their school could continue to do to support students of different races, ethnicities, and cultures, students gave responses such as “having more conversations about race to make it less uncomfortable “, she said.

Examples of student responses to the Panorama Education survey. (Source: District 65 Presentation)

Cross added, “From a teacher’s perspective, I look at it like, OK, that’s what my kids are saying. This is what I could perhaps attribute this to, and these [are] concrete steps that I can actually take in my classroom, daily, weekly, monthly to change this data. »

Next steps

With student feedback on bullying from Olweus and the Panorama surveys, Cross said the next step for her and Palmer is to work with school climate teams to help each school select an area of ​​intervention, to create action plans and determine what supports the district needs. level and from outside sources. “We really want to make sure we’re actually using this data to inform work.”

Cross said the district will also participate in a statewide project to address mental health in Illinois schools. In his report to the board, Cross wrote that a coach will be assigned to the district to “help us identify our needs with the TRS (Trauma-Responsive School) assessment, develop action plans to align and strengthen our current SEL [social-emotional learning] and mental health services, and provide professional learning and communities of practice to improve our systems and develop common practices to support students and staff.

The Program – provided by a partnership between the Illinois State Board of Education, the Center for Childhood Resilience at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital Chicago, and the Regional Office of Education Social and Emotional Learning Hubs – is free to the district and will begin in March with final action plans to be completed in July.

Cross added that the program will continue over the next two years, with professional learning and “a very strong focus on staff and their health, mental health and well-being and how that relates to their work. “.

Sara H. Byrd