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WALTHAM

New way to fight bullying

Bentley students take on lead role

By Megan McKee
Globe Correspondent / September 26, 2010

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A Bentley University student has brought back to Massachusetts an antibullying program she helped spearhead while studying in Australia, and both Waltham and Milton are exploring using it in their school systems.

“The biggest driver for me bringing it back here was experiencing how powerful our presentation was,’’ said Sarah Benson, a senior marketing major and coordinator at Bentley’s Service-Learning Center. “This made me realize that this is a really big deal, and we need to share this with other schools and with Waltham. I can’t think of a better time for it to happen.’’

At the core of “One Goal, One Community: Moving beyond bullying and empowering for life’’ is the belief that college students should play a lead role in educating younger students on how to prevent bullying, and that community members need to work together to un derstand the phenomenon and their role in it, she said. In Australia, more than 10,000 people have signed a pledge to alleviate bullying in their community.

Benson and Amy Kenworthy, her professor at Bond University in Queensland, Australia, made a presentation to Waltham community members last week, and Bentley psychology professor Greg Hall is leading his undergraduate students in preparing an antibullying seminar for Milton parents that is planned for Nov. 9.

An associate professor of management, Kenworthy is a Bentley alumna and former service-learning coordinator at the Waltham school who has incorporated the practice at Bond by having her students bring classroom learning into the community. She said she was prompted to introduce bullying as a topic when two Australian students killed themselves after being harassed by classmates, tragically echoing the suicides of two students in Western Massachusetts since last year.

“Bullying is everywhere,’’ she said. “We all have the same issues.’’

The deaths of Carl Walker-Hoover in Springfield last year and Phoebe Prince in South Hadley in January led to the state’s new antibullying law, which requires school districts to conduct comprehensive investigations of bullying incidents.

Benson, along with other Bond University students, designed the “One Goal, One Community’’ program earlier this year. College students lead the program, which teaches younger students about different types of bullying, and how to deal with it, whether they are a victim or witness. Getting college students involved is key, since high school students can better relate to people only a few years older than themselves, said Benson.

Kenworthy said one of the most vital weapons to combat bullying is communication. She said a US Department of Justice study found that 70 percent of bullying victims don’t talk about their experiences. By raising awareness among all community members, dialogue becomes easier, she said.

“The major thrust for this initiative, both for Bond and Bentley, is to stimulate communication among people and among students, community members, business members,’’ she said.

The Milton school district’s superintendent, Mary Gormley, said the resources provided by Bentley have been more extensive than the offerings of numerous other presenters and consultants the school system has had. She said Hall has already given a presentation to teachers, and she’s thrilled to continue working with Bentley

“The content was unbelievable,’’ she said, adding that her staff members “were really taken aback by the level of the presentation.’’

In Waltham, the district’s interim leader, Anne Marie Carr-Reardon, said her department will work with Bentley as the city implements antibullying initiatives by the end of the year to comply with the state’s new law.

Hall said the program being prepared for Milton will be led by his students.

“They’ll research it, design it, and deliver the program. By the time November comes, they’ll have a level of expertise beyond the bullying,’’ he said.

The program in Waltham will be led by students from Bentley’s Service-Learning Center.

Kenworthy, who has been visiting from Australia to get the program launched at Bentley, said, “Through service learning, we’re creating a program where university students are these incredibly effective agents of change.’’

Megan McKee can be reached at megan.mckee@gmail.com.

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