In Howard County, Maryland, we knew we needed to tackle bullying and cyber-harassment, after a few serious incidents focused our attention and raised awareness of these problems in our community. We examined current laws and discussed whether to push for new state legislation. We looked at how our public schools collect reports of bullying and later, how they handle them.
After much study and discussion, we decided on a multi-faceted approach that brings together a variety of community partners and offers a comprehensive way forward. We announced our plan on May 1 and now, are looking forward to seeing the results.
The plan involves three parts:
- First, we want to change what people think and feel about bullying. We will develop a social marketing campaign to make sure adults and children know about the severe effects of bullying and what to do when it occurs. Fortunately, we’ve got a good model. In Howard County, our library system took the lead in creating a campaign known as “Choose Civility,” which has become incredibly popular for pushing positive messages about how we should treat each other We will use the lessons from that work to develop a similar message around bullying.
- Second, we will provide a new tool to give children and adults a way to report bullying where it happens, in real time. We have customized a web-based reporting application called Sprigeo for use throughout the county. The system has been used in school systems across the U.S., but this will be the first time that a person can anonymously report bullying that happens in schools, at a park or library, or elsewhere in the community.
- Third, we will develop materials and training programs for those who work with kids to make sure they have the skills and knowledge needed to address bullying appropriately. We will incorporate resources like StopBullying.gov’s Bullying Prevention Training Module and make sure they are widely available in a new online library.
In addition to federal partners at the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), we are pleased that so many local leaders are joining our effort, including youth sports leagues and the YMCA of Central Maryland. We have a lot of work to do before this program “goes live” at the start of the next school year and in some cases, we are entering uncharted waters, but by pulling so many members of the community together, we know we can make a difference.