Cutchogue East Elementary School launches anti-bullying initiative

Cutchogue East Elementary School introduced students to a new anti-bullying program the school’s administrators hope to use throughout the school year and beyond.

The elementary school, which instructs students in kindergarten through sixth grade, hosted an assembly Friday morning to introduce kids to the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program. According to its website, the program, based out of South Carolina’s Clemson University, was developed by researcher Dan Olweus, who studied bullying for several decades. The program tackles bullying at the individual student, classroom and school-wide levels, and the district hopes to galvanize the broader community to address bullying. Hallmarks of the program include the administration of an anonymous questionnaire to inform school officials the nature and prevalence of bullying at their school and interventions with students identified as either bullies or victims, which includes discussions with such students’ parents as well as counselors and school-based mental health professionals.

“Our mission statement talks about inclusivity, and we’ve really done a great job at doing that and spreading kindness each year,” Cutchogue East principal Amy Brennan said. “But we felt like we needed a school-wide shared language around some clear rules about bullying. That was why we brought in the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program.”

The school’s amplified anti-bullying efforts began last summer when parents and teachers came together to form a bullying prevention coordinating committee tasked with exploring various bullying prevention programs. They ultimately decided on Olweus, which they introduced to teachers at the start of this school year.

“This particular program that comes out of Clemson is one of the most evidence-based, research-based programs with the most success,” Ms. Brennan said. “The committee decided it best aligned with our mission statement and our values. On superintendent’s conference day, our staff were trained … Today was our students’ introduction to it. We’re looking forward to every year starting the year with the assembly in September when school starts, this way it’s a yearly initiative that we will follow through on.”

To tackle bullying as a community, the school invited community leaders to attend Friday’s assembly. In attendance were Southold Town councilmembers Jill Doherty, Greg Doroski and Anne Smith, who previously served the school as its principal, as well as Police Chief Martin Flatley, Cutchogue Fire Department chief Bill Brewer and several other first responders.

“I think we support the same initiative the school does, we don’t want to see bullying anywhere,” Mr. Flatley said. “We also want teachers and students to know that if they do witness any bullying that we always have someone here they can report it to and follow up with. We support the school a lot through our school resource officer program and we would hope they could take care of any bullying issues that came before them.”

When asked what he hopes the kids learned from the assembly, the chief pointed to the importance of peer intervention.

“If you don’t have it within you to stop it from happening, at least report it to somebody,” he said. “If you don’t intervene, it just continues.”

Each morning, Ms. Brennan said, students have a 20-minute meeting with two teachers — their own classroom instructor plus another educator such as a physical education or art teacher — during which time they greet each other “so everyone is seen and valued and heard” and do an activity rooted in “inclusivity and kindness.” Through these meetings, teachers and students will engage in the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program.

“Now that we’ve had this assembly, every Tuesday morning will focus on the curriculum from Olweus,” the principal said. “That’s how we’re embedding it across the whole year. It’s not a one and done, it’s ongoing. Our students and our staff are always working for that initiative and it’s always at the forefront.”

Currently, there are no plans to expand the Olweus program to the district’s high school, but this could change in the future.

“That is something that could happen because it does expand to other grade levels,” Ms. Brennan said of the Olweus program. “We’re going to get our kids and our staff using that curriculum and we’ll see where it goes. I have very high expectations.”