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America's Promise Partner Lauds Promise Effort to Stamp Out Bullying
America's Promise Bulletin #478

Recently an Erie, Pa., high-school student, reportedly unable to continue enduring relentless teasing and bullying from her peers, committed suicide. Preventing similar deaths, and the other tragic outcomes that can stem from bullying, including depression, substance abuse and eating disorders, are the focus of The Ophelia Project, an Erie-based nonprofit organization dedicated to creating a safe social and emotional climate in schools and communities.

In partnership with Erie's Promise, the organization's Creating a Safe School (CASS) program stepped up its presence in the Erie schools, and has since spread nationwide. The National Crime Prevention Council, an America's Promise partner, has taken notice and recently recognized CASS as an example of "what works" in preventing youth bullying. The idea that preventing bullying among Erie youth had to be a collaborative effort is what attracted the Ophelia Project to America's Promise, says Erika Dauber, the organization's communications director.

"We were founded on the belief that good role models and positive mentors can make all the difference," Dauber says. Plus, she adds, "the Five Promises just make sense. Giving kids caring adults to stop bullying and safe places in school—that’s what we're all about."

CASS is based on a two-pronged approach to eliminating bullying: reaching out to parents and reaching out to youth in schools. "We're involving parents, because they are the number one influence on children, " Dauber explains. CASS's resources include fact sheets for parents on how to deal with a child who is a bully or being bullied. Also, "we encourage them to change their attitudes, because kids learn from adults," she says. "So if they see their parents gossiping or talking behind people's back," precursors to bullying, according to Dauber, "then they're going to do it, too."

In targeting youth, CASS conducts seminars in schools and trains high-school mentors to lead similar outreach among middle-school and even elementary-age children. "It starts young," Dauber says. "Young children are just direct about it. 'They say, 'I won't play with you if you do X.' As they get older, the aggression just gets more subtle."

To be effective, Dauber asserts, CASS also must reach beyond parents and schools. "It's a process as opposed to a program, and it has to be system-wide." The Ophelia Project partners with national organizations such as the YMCA, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, as well as local organizations like Erie's Promise to reach as many youth and youth-serving adults as possible to spread its message.

The Ophelia Project's efforts to convene local and national partners likely earned them distinction from National Crime Prevention Council as part of its Be Safe and Sound campaign. "We're obviously very honored, and it's exciting to see the movement take shape in people's minds," says Dauber. "They're starting to see that a climate of relational aggression and exclusion in schools feeds violence. Columbine set the bar for what safety means at a whole different level, and unless we address [bullying], we're not getting the whole picture."

To learn more about the Ophelia Project, visit www.opheliaproject.org. For details about the National Crime Prevention Council Be Safe and Sound campaign, visit www.ncpc.org/besafe. And for facts and statistics about bullying, download information from the U.S. Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention at www.ncjrs.org/pdffiles1/ojjdp/fs200127.pdf.

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