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Sunday, March 17, 2013

Report shows bullying cases going down in Nashua schools

NASHUA – At least so far, bullying incidents have taken a nosedive at city schools this year compared with the same period last year.

Nashua schools have seen confirmed bullying incidents drop by roughly one-third this year, according to data presented to the Board of Education last month. The data shows that from Aug. 31 through January, there were 68 confirmed reports of bullying, down from 102 incidents a year ago. ...

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NASHUA – At least so far, bullying incidents have taken a nosedive at city schools this year compared with the same period last year.

Nashua schools have seen confirmed bullying incidents drop by roughly one-third this year, according to data presented to the Board of Education last month. The data shows that from Aug. 31 through January, there were 68 confirmed reports of bullying, down from 102 incidents a year ago.

City middle schools, which typically report the most bullying cases, dropped from 57 last year to 34 by Jan. 31 this year.

The most significant decrease came at Pennichuck Middle School, where 28 bullying incidents by Jan. 31, 2012, turned to only nine reported by the end of this January – a 68 percent drop.

“The efforts that our school community have been making, many different anti-bullying activities … we’re hopeful that the data reflects positively on that,” Superintendent Mark Conrad said.

City schools have focused more on bullying in recent years, including student-led prevention efforts such as the one at Fairgrounds Elementary School.

A group of Nashua High School South students enrolled in Lisa Yates’ Human Relations class visited the school last fall to talk about bullying and bullying
prevention. Since then, Fairgrounds students have taken up the torch, forming clubs to address bullying and to protect their classmates.

“It helped lay a nice foundation for what bullying was and wasn’t, and it got kids excited,” Principal Mike Harrington said of the anti-bullying program organized by Yates’ class. “The students want to form clubs to find ways to prevent bullying at the schools, and that’s kind of neat. We want to help organize it and promote it.”

Harrington said this and other initiatives at the school have helped create a more caring community at Fairgrounds, and that he’s hoping bullying data generated at the end of the year will show a change in the number of incidents.

Still, Conrad said it’s important not to view the decline as a trend quite yet.

While the district has long tracked its rates of confirmed bullying incidents in the schools, the current system was adopted less than three years ago, when the state issued a new anti-bullying law. The law changed the way bullying incidents were reported and investigated, as well as changed the definition of bullying.

Experts warned at the time that many school districts would likely see a year or two of more reported cases than in past years as administrators got used to the new definitions and reporting practices.

“Some of it may be just a settling down of how we report it as we become more familiar with the new law; we may have been over-identifying initially,” Conrad said.

“This is a good sign, but we’re not making assumptions yet. At the end of this year, we’ll have three years of data. Then we can see if a trend is emerging.”

But Conrad said there is no doubt the district’s focus on improving anti-bullying education for students has made an impact on the culture and climate of the city’s schools.

Districtwide, there were 58 cases of traditional bullying confirmed by Jan. 31, down from 88 the year before.

Cyberbullying incidents were cut in half in the last year, from 10 to five.

At the elementary school level, where total bullying incidents reported dropped from 32 to 22 in the first half of each school year, most schools saw decreases in reported incidents.

Harrington said that while the new bullying law may have led to “over-reporting” of bullying cases as school leaders and teachers got used to the new definitions, it has also had a positive impact in changing school culture. Now that students better understand what bullying is, he said, they’re less likely to do something that would rise to that level and are looking out for their classmates better.

“It’s the whole bystander effect,” he said. “We’re seeing instances now of students speaking up for other students – not telling on them, but speaking directly to them.”

The district will collect bullying data for the second half of the school year and then do a more in-depth analysis of the numbers for the last three years, Conrad said.

At that point, it will be more clear whether anti-bullying programs in the city have made a significant difference.

“We’re hopeful the decline in data reflects positively on these (programs),” he said.

Danielle Curtis can be reached at 594-6557 or dcurtis@nashua
telegraph.com. Also, follow Curtis on Twitter (Telegraph_DC).