Last winter, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie signed the nation’s toughest anti-bullying bill for schools and colleges. The new law, which expands and updates an anti-bullying law issued in 2001, aims to reduce bullying in all of its forms: physical, verbal, emotional, sexual, and electronic.
Research has shown that students are more able to learn and benefit from instruction even in the most demanding academic subjects, when anti-bullying strategies are effectively implemented. The Y.A.L.E. School’s, eight campuses in South Jersey have been doing just that for years. Since its founding in 1976, Y.A.L.E. has been implementing evidence-based strategies, such as peer-mentoring, empathic and responsive staffing, anonymous bullying reporting, and immediate response to bullying reports by highly trained mental health staff—all of which have been demonstrated to reduce bullying.
Our approach includes weekly classroom activities to enhance appropriate peer communication and social skills by promoting positive peer interactions through daily social skills instruction, conflict resolution, and peer-mediation. On a daily basis, students are noticed for acts, such as saying nice things to other students, holding doors, volunteering to help others, or proposing solutions to problems. Once a week, students are nominated by peers to be recognized for their work: primary grade students nominate a “Hero of the Week.” Our secondary students nominate a “Peer Leader.” The program encourages students to be more aware of instances when others say or do helpful things, and encourages them to engage in more positive interactions.
Many of the students who come to the Y.A.L.E. School—particularly those with social learning disabilities such as autism, Asperger’s and anxiety—have experienced bullying in their public schools, and appreciate the bully-free, positive peer environment.
The results of Y.A.L.E’s pro-active approach are working well on a number of measures: Students report feeling more supported, safe, and free to express themselves; rates of bullying are significantly lower than those for public schools; attendance rates are higher than those at public schools; and, our students are showing significant gains in academic achievement.