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Date: March 22, 2004

Grant expands successful anti-bullying program

A successful anti-bullying program currently part of the K-3 curriculum in all Greater Victoria elementary schools could soon include older students thanks to a $20,000 US grant from the American Psychological Foundation (APF). The award will allow UVic researchers to evaluate a pilot project extending the WITS program to grade four and five students at Frank Hobbs School.

WITS, which stands for Walk away, Ignore, Talk it out, and Seek help, teaches youngsters skills for handling and preventing bullying. Established by volunteer police organization the Rock Solid Foundation, the program links resources of the police force, schools, and UVic varsity athletes. University researchers studied youngsters for three years in six schools to evaluate the effectiveness of the program.

“This is the first time that the APF has sponsored community-based research,” says Dr. Bonnie Leadbeater, the pilot project’s principal investigator. “UVic’s proposal in the category of research-based programs on violence prevention and intervention was chosen over 48 other submissions.”

The grant will be used as seed money for “WITS Leads,” a grade four and five program that will address concerns raised by the three-year study of the WITS program. While that evaluation determined that levels of physical victimization decreased in schools incorporating the WITS program—especially in high poverty schools—drops in relational victimization (such as gossiping, social exclusion) were less pronounced.

“With WITS Leads we’ll focus on making kids understand there are different kinds of bullying and different ways of being mean—it’s not just about hitting someone,” says Leadbeater. “We’ll still emphasize the ‘seek help’ element while recognizing that kids are moving into leadership roles and need to develop leadership skills. We’ll also explain how by-standers to bullying can contribute to the problem.”

WITS Leads will contain elements of both the language arts and social responsibility curriculum. Police officers will visit students to discuss and reinforce non-violent ways of handling peer conflicts. The program will teach children to act as peer leaders for primary children on the playground, and noon hour drama and games and video making will provide extra support and mentoring for children referred by parents or teachers for having difficulty resolving peer conflicts peacefully.

The pilot project will continue until June, data will be studied over the summer and Leadbeater hopes to make WITS Leads available to other schools in the fall.

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Media contacts:
Dr. Bonnie Leadbeater (Psychology) at (250) 721-7523 or bleadbea@uvic.ca
Susan Underwood (Vice-Principal, Frank Hobbs School) at (250) 477-1804
Patty Pitts (UVic Communications) at (250) 721-7656 or ppitts@uvic.ca


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