St. Paul schools: Anti-bullying campaign aboard buses, too
Rachael Krause, Pioneer Press, September 23, 2012 – Pink sequins, zebra stripes, Super Mario Bros. and Dora the Explorer decorate the backpacks of the students leaving Hancock-Hamline Elementary School in St. Paul. Leaves dusting the sidewalk are stomped on by children laughing and shouting goodbyes to friends as they leap aboard their yellow buses for the trip home.
The scene is idyllic, but it’s one that can be marred by bullies who also ride the bus.
To prevent that, Hancock-Hamline has been using the Peaceful School Bus program, an anti-bullying initiative that teaches students problem-solving skills and teamwork to help keep bullying out of the classroom and off the school bus.
Developed in 2000 by Jim Dillon, then the principal of Lynnwood Elementary School in Schenectady, N.Y., the Peaceful School Bus program has been used successfully for more than a decade. The program asks that students, teachers and bus drivers meet at least three times a year to talk and work as a team to address bullying behavior on the bus.
“It’s good because it helps us have a peaceful ride,” said Brenden Lankford-Johnson, a fifth-grader at Hancock-Hamline in the Hamline-Midway neighborhood. “And I like riding the bus because I get to see my friends.”
Students can be written up or suspended by their bus drivers for talking loudly or fighting on the bus, according to Brenden.
But since the school started using the Peaceful School Bus program last year, the number of students being written up or suspended from the bus are down from previous years, according to Craig Anderson, principal at Hancock-Hamline Elementary.
“If kids have problems on the bus, we asked the drivers to write them up so we could do something about it. But write-ups went down 35 percent that first year and suspensions went down 50 percent,” said Anderson, who learned of the program independently and brought it to his school in 2011.
Results like that are what made the St. Paul school district consider following Hancock-Hamline’s example and using the Peaceful School Bus program elsewhere, according to Tom Meyer, the district’s transportation operations manager.
By Oct.1, 10 more St. Paul elementary schools will use the program.
If the pilot project is successful, the rest of the district’s elementary schools will adopt the program.
Bullying on school buses hasn’t been a major problem in the past, Meyer said, but the district is trying to be more proactive about preventing it in the classroom and on the bus.
“Bus drivers like that we have a plan in place for bullying,” Meyer said.
“Now staff can spend less time dealing with bus issues and more time educating.”
Students are assigned bus buddies — a big kid paired with a little kid — to help and protect the younger child on the bus, according to Meyer.
“It helps the older child feel like they have an important job, too,” he added.
At Hancock-Hamline, parents and bus drivers like the changes that the Peaceful School Bus program is bringing to the schools, Anderson said.
“Parents are happy that their kids are having a good time on the bus,” Anderson said. “They’re all for it.”
Hazelden, the Minnesota-based addiction treatment and research center, publishes the Peaceful School Bus program.
Costing schools $119 for program materials, it has sold more than 2,000 copies around the country, Dillon said.
St. Paul is not the first Minnesota school district to use Dillon’s program.
Forest Lake schools have been using the Peaceful School Bus program since 2008.
The program helped the district reduce bullying behavior on its buses, according to Carolyn Carr Latady, family support advocate for Forest Lake schools.