Durham school hopes bullying program catches on statewide

Posted January 22, 2010 6:00 p.m. EST
Updated January 22, 2010 6:22 p.m. EST

— Haunting images of the 1999 shooting massacre at Columbine High School in Colorado taught educators nationwide that bullying is no joke and can end in violence.

A pilot program at Central Park School for Children, a charter elementary school in Durham, is trying to get everyone engaged in the solution – including anyone who witnesses bullying.

The program, called Peaceful Schools North Carolina, teaches students, staff and parents how to diffuse potentially volatile situations.

“The ultimate goal is to end school violence,” said program organizer Renee Prillaman. “(Bullying) can be anything that leaves a child, or an adult for that matter, feeling disempowered, unappreciated (and is) damaging to their self-esteem.”

Fifth-grader Moss Brennan says people, whether a victim or a bystander, need to understand the issue and be ready to help others.

“Anybody can be a bully, adults, girls, boys anybody,” he said. ”Try to ignore first. If that doesn't work, get somebody to help you out. If that doesn't work, get a teacher.”

School Director John Heffernan has seen his share of bullying as an educator, but says his entire school community is now working on it together.

“One student sort of let me know, you know, this year it seems so much brighter here,” Heffernan said. “The children are letting their teachers know. Children are responding to each other. Students are letting me know.”

Students from Carolina Friends Middle School in Durham developed a play to help others navigate bullying situations.

Weechie Baker said she was nervous that her 5-year-old son might be bullied in kindergarten. However, she said the anti-bullying program help keeps the peace.

The North Carolina Psychoanalytic Foundation created the Peaceful Schools Initiative. Organizers said they hope its success in Durham will convince school systems statewide to take part.