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Bullies Not Wanted Here
by Mel Meléndez, The Arizona Republic, November 17, 2004

Roxanne Tamayo, 9, recalled the day a group of students bullied her while she was playing ball during lunch at Lowell School.

To bystanders, the jibes and taunts could seem like innocent child's play. To Roxanne, the incident left an indelible impression, one that school counselors say could scar her for life.

"They started calling me bad names," said the fourth-grader, her bottom lip quivering. "That doesn't make you feel good. I still remember it, and it makes me sad."

Once considered part of children's growing pains, bullying has come to the forefront as behavior that can lead to low self-esteem, truancy, vandalism, violence, depression and suicide. Incidents, such as the Columbine High School tragedy, where the shooters had been bullied, and a recent spurt in teen suicides coined "bullycide," highlight how the aggressive behavior has been underestimated.

At Lowell, help is on the way.

The 650-student K-8 school recently introduced the Olweus Bully Prevention Program. Started in the 1970s, the Norwegian program has been adopted internationally by converts who claim the program can result in 50 to 70 percent reductions in bullying.

Under the program, students fill out an anonymous questionnaire to assess the nature of bullying on campus, a plan is devised to focus on the bullying "hot spots" identified by students, school staffers are trained in support and prevention techniques, schools adopt anti-bullying rules, and community outreach helps reinforce the positive behaviors.

"I'm so glad they're doing this, because it helps us teach our kids the importance of respecting others," said Olivia Ochoa, whose daughters Olivia and Shalma attend Lowell, at 1121 S. Third Ave., Phoenix. "Hopefully kids are already getting that message at home, but hearing it again never hurts."

Last week, Ochoa, a Spanish speaker, and dozens of other parents attended a bilingual kickoff at Lowell where school officials explained they would take the school's anti-bullying message to the streets. Few walls on the school campus lacked posters declaring the school a "No Bully Zone" or featuring messages on how to eradicate bullying. Even the school's Tiger mascot sported a "Stomp Out Bullying" note tagged to his backside.

"These posters will be posted everywhere . . . churches, restaurants, stores," Principal Alice Trujillo said, "because bullying will not be tolerated in our school and our community."

According to a survey by the U.S. Department of Justice, one in four kids are bullied, an act "increasingly viewed as an important contributor to youth violence, including homicide and suicide."

The alarming statistic prompted the Arizona Prevention Resource Center, a non-profit state agency housed at Arizona State University that backs research-based programs, to fund the Olweus program at Lowell. Costs run at about $8 per student, or $5,240, senior program director Jodi Fuller said.

"Bullying is a serious problem. Columbine showed that," she said. "But people also need to know that bullying in children can lead to adult aggression problems, such as domestic violence. Both are about power and control."

Parents and other authority figures need to listen to children when they complain about bullying, said Frank Diaz, Lowell's social worker. Signs to look for include behavior that's intentional harm-doing, repeated over time or doled out to students not on equal standing, he said.

"You just can't explain the behavior away as 'kids just being kids,' " said Diaz, who like most school social workers and counselors often counsel bullies and their victims. "Bullying can be devastating, because when you're told constantly that you're less than others, you start to believe that, and that's hard to shake even as an adult."

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