Paula Gill-Lopez, Ph.D., on Governor's Prevention Partnership Bully Task Force
Paula Gill-Lopez, Ph.D., associate professor and director of the School Psychology Program in the Graduate School of Education and Allied Professions, is a member of the Governor's Prevention Partnership Bully Task Force, representing the Connecticut Association of School Psychologists.
In the wake of a disturbing number of violent acts at schools across the country, the charge of the task force is especially critical. Dr. Gill-Lopez pointed out that "The only common trait the FBI found among students committing the violence was that they were either targets of bullying or were bullies themselves. They might differ in their backgrounds, academics and social situations, but the bullying factor always seemed to be present."
The task force's final report, issued in January, revealed some disturbing statistics:
- Bullying and aggression are commonly seen in elementary schools, where bullying incidents occur in nearly 9 out of 10 elementary schools.
- By age 24, bullies identified after the age of seven are six times more likely than non-bullies to be convicted of a crime.
- Schools that address bullying effectively can create a more than 50 percent reduction in aggressive behaviors.
Contrary to what many believe, most bullies are not insecure and lacking in self-esteem, Dr. Gill-Lopez said. Rather, they value aggression and lack empathy for their targets, believing their targets deserve to be attacked. Early identification and intervention can mitigate bullies' negative and hostile reactions and strengthen positive behaviors.
Neither punishment nor traditional therapy that focuses on feelings is typically effective with bullies. A multi-level, ongoing intervention and the consistent enforcement of non-punitive, graduated consequences seem most helpful in turning bullies around. They need systems of support to help them reduce their aggressive behaviors and strengthen positive social interactions.
The Bullying Task Force recommended that research-based anti-bullying programs be instituted in all Connecticut schools in the early and middle grades. On a school-wide basis, they suggested training for both professional and paraprofessional staff, including people such as bus drivers, maintenance and cafeteria staff and office personnel.
They also recommended a mechanism through which students may report bullying incidents in a safe environment and a consistently enforced discipline policy with a code of conduct and specific rules and language against bullying behaviors.
At the classroom level, the task force recommended student and teacher-created classroom rules against bullying and regular meetings and group discussions with students about bullying and disrespectful behavior.
A recommendation by Dr. Gill-Lopez that mental health professionals, including school psychologists, school counselors and school social workers, be made an integral part of intervention was written into the final report. "I thought it was really important. Often we make recommendations and overlook what we already have in place," she said.
As a result of her involvement in the Task Force, Dr. Gill-Lopez spoke with students at Seymour High School on March 28, and will be speaking at Derby High School on April 11, and Shelton High on April 25, in programs arranged by the Valley Instructional Network.
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Posted on March 6, 2001
Vol. 33, No. 172