Getting the antibullying word out on the streets, in big letters

February 27, 2011

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The state’s new antibullying law requires school districts to partner with law enforcement and community organizations to get tough on bullies. The Anti-Defamation League of New England, which led a statewide coalition to get the law on the books, has launched a new billboard campaign, “Take A Stand Against Bullying,’’ to drive home the message.

“We hope it sparks a conversation, so parents can have a clear, open dialogue with their children,’’ said Jennifer Smith, the league’s associate regional director.

The campaign will be featured on 105 billboards statewide, including three in the area — on routes 62 in Danvers, 1A in Lynn, and I-93 north in Somerville — donated by Clear Channel Outdoor of Stoneham. They bear the image of a despondent boy, sitting against lockers, his head hidden in his arms. “That student’s emotion represents what far too many students across the Commonwealth have experienced,’’ Smith said, noting the image is also used in a national ADL bullying awareness campaign.

The law has prompted the district attorneys in Essex and Middlesex counties to refocus on bullying prevention education programs each has run for years with local school districts. “We want to be on the front end, to intervene and prevent bullying,’’ said Middlesex District Attorney Gerard T Leone Jr.. “We’d rather do that than have to investigate and prosecute crimes that come from bullying.’’

“We try to be as proactive as we can be,’’ said Ruth Budelmann, director of juvenile justice for Essex District Attorney Jonathan W. Blodgett. “Bullying is such a big issue, we want kids to get the message that they should think before they act.’’

School programs, teacher training, and community forums on bullying have been organized in each county. Tomorrow, Blodgett hosts a conference featuring Rosalind Wiseman, author of “Queen Bees and Wannabees,’’ which served as the basis for the movie “Mean Girls.’’ School districts from Essex County were asked to select five parents to represent them at the event, to be held at the Peabody Marriott hotel. On Tuesday, Wiseman will present training sessions for teachers, guidance counselors, and law enforcement officials on her “Owning Up Curriculum,’’ which teaches kids to take responsibility for bad behavior.

“Our whole emphasis is on prevention,’’ Budelmann said. “We think [Wiseman] has an important message for parents and schools.’’

The DA’s office this spring will issue an updated version of “Stop Bullying Before It Starts: A Bullying Prevention Project,’’ originally launched in schools in 2004. The new material incorporates cyberbullying and other forms of electronic taunting. “We want to curb any bullying before it becomes criminal behavior,’’ Budelmann added.

Middlesex Partnerships for Youth, a nonprofit arm of the DA’s office, coordinates antibullying education with local school districts. Workshops and training to help schools and parents understand the law are offered. In Malden, for example, the partnership will be at the Ferryway School for a bullying prevention workshop for parents scheduled for March.

“Our approach is pretty comprehensive,’’ Leone said. “We really drill down, to get at how kids treat each other. We try to get to the root of intolerance, which really is what bullying is all about.’’

Kathy McCabe

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