99/365 Bullying in Colorado: Part 3 of 7

This 7-part series will cover the history of bullying legislation and anti-bullying efforts within the state of Colorado beginning with the first definition of bullying by the Legislature in 2001.

Colorado’s Trust in Anti-Bullying

Absent specific action by the Legislature and given the variance in school and district policies given the lack of specific guidance by SB 01-080, the grant-making foundation The Colorado Trust stepped in in 2005 with a four-year anti-bullying initiative that allocated $8.6 million to 45 grantees and 78 schools across 40 of Colorado’s 64 counties. Districts, schools, and community organizations receiving these funds reported reaching approximately 50,000 Coloradans through their efforts.

Arguably more important than the reach of the Trust’s initiative were its results. Through an independent evaluation that included surveys of approximately 6,000 student and 1,500 adults, focus groups with students, and in-depth interviews with grantees, the Trust’s Bullying Prevention Initiative (BPI) found positive results in reports of school context and culture as well as decreases in reports of bullying behavior following the enactment of its funded efforts.

From the Trust’s independent evaluation of BPI, several key findings were uncovered that stretched across grantees. Chief among these was the need for anti-bullying efforts to be integrated into the daily operations of learning spaces rather than as add-on or auxiliary programs that might be seen as in competition with other school programs. The Trust also found that anti-bullying efforts were most difficult in high school and that it “may be too late by then anyway” (2008). In the Findings Report, the Trust reported, “High school, however, grows more complex because bullying occurs below the adult radar – such as cyberbullying. Students also are less likely to ask adults to intervene unless they have trusted adults to help them” (2008, p. 4).

This finding is of particular interest for a number of reasons. Chief among them is the use of the term cyberbullying though online spaces were not included in the State’s initial definition of bullying. The finding speaks to the holes in the State’s attempt to protect its youth from bullying. Also notable is the research’s determination of the increased difficulty of alleviating bullying in students’ later years of schooling. While significant improvements in preventing bullying were reported across elementary and middle school populations, such shifts were more difficult in high schools.

Unfortunately, the Trust’s study concluded in 2008, so the ability to evaluate the possible persistence of the Initiative’s effects is impossible.  This leaves on the table the question of whether implementing the efforts that were successful in creating safer schools in the younger years could have the double effect of making older students safer as well. Later, this paper will examine those efforts found to be successful by the Trust and other similar organizations.

Finally, while claims of causation are doubtful, the Trust found a positive correlation between schools with below-average instances of bullying and above-average CSAP scores. “Almost 33 percent of schools below the average frequency of bullying in the first year of the initiative were above the average CSAP score, while only 14 percent of schools reporting a higher frequency of bullying were above the average CSAP score” (p. 7). This finding is not surprising. One would expect students attending schools where they experience less fear for their safety would have greater access to learning and achievement. Still, such a finding is helpful to those policymakers whose decisions are driven by test scores rather than a more holistic understanding of students.

In 2009, the Colorado Trust ended its anti-bullying grant program, and turned its funding to other programmatic goals it saw as aligned to its mission. Still, in the five years of funding and research, the Trust was able to gather information that painted a clearer picture of bullying in Colorado schools than had previously existed and added to the burgeoning corpus of research dedicated to understanding how to prevent and reduce bullying in schools.

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