Students, Not Punishment, Stop School Bullying

Ferndale Elementary school in Humboldt County, California, has adopted a novel approach to student bullying.

“It wasn’t just that punishment didn’t do any good,” says Tammy Saldana, Ferndale principal. “Punishment actually made things worse. Sending the student to detention, it doesn’t work. They go home, they’re upset, they just come right back to school and do it again. They haven’t learned any replacement skills for the negative behavior.”

Humboldt County has significantly higher rates of bullying than other California schools. 56%  percent of fifth graders in Humboldt County say they are hit or pushed at school or have had mean rumors spread about them.  The percentages  for Middle and High school are only slightly lower.

The bullying at Ferndale is similar to what happens at schools across America where students routinely humiliate and taunt one another. As eighth grader Wyatt Stoops describes the casual but chilling cruelty between his schoolmates: “You make fun of whatever’s wrong with someone. Their weight, their height, someone who’s too tall —  someone who’s too short.”

But now when the hallway or playground aggression begins, a student Solution Team® swings into action. A Solution Coach® trained by No Bully convenes a student Solution Team®, explains how one of their peers is suffering, and leads the team in brainstorming a solution.  Instead of being punished, the bully is included on the Solution Team and held responsible for playing a key role in solving the problem.  

No Bully is a San Francisco based 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that has been training California schools in a radically new approach to bullying.  No Bully’s approach addresses one of the key challenges schools have in stopping bullying: getting students to come forward and speak  about it in the first place. Students who are bullied typically don’t want to tell because they fear retaliation.  In the words of the old playground saying, “stiches are for snitches.”

Taking punishment off the table changes how students respond when bullying occurs. Students who no longer fear reprisals are free to alert adults more readily when they witness or are targets of bullying. And school staff, with a Solution Team® at the ready, can respond quickly and effectively. As student Wyatt Stoops describes it, “The No Bully Solution Team makes students feel comfortable talking to adults and students (about bullying) —  and getting along — and trying to work it out.”  TV

Ferndale teacher Megan Collenbery says that the school’s Solution Teams create an empathetic response to students having a hard time.  Instead of demonizing the aggressor, which is the typical paradigm for most schools, the No Bully approach helps bullies learn new coping and conflict resolution skills which they can then carry forward into the future.
Ferndale Elementary is one of 250 California schools where No Bully  has trained core staff how to be Solution Coaches and bring together student Solution Teams in response to student bullying and harassment. No Bully is currently seeking donors to sponsor seven Humboldt County Schools in a yearlong No Bully partnership to become bully-free, an initiative supported by the Humboldt County Office of Education.  

No Bully’s unique approach holds out hope for schools across the country that are struggling to stop an epidemic of school bullying. An evaluation released in May 2013 of Humboldt and Sonoma County teachers trained this year by No Bully found that they resolved bullying incidents successfully in 90 percent of cases.