Upstanding Bully Prevention: A Program That Works

Upstanding Bully Prevention: A Program That Works

Written by Jeff Rogers, Posted on , in Section Turn For The Better

Students When They Really "Give a Hoot" About Others

The Orchard Elementary School Owls really "give a hoot" about one another.  Their school motto is "Together is Better," and they mean it, because they literally, day in and day out... "stand up for everyone." And they do it by making use of an acclaimed bully prevention program called Upstander.

Upstander is the product of a nationwide bully-awareness effort led by the National School Climate Center in 2009 to help promote the development of communities of students who stick up for one another, and as a result make their schools stronger, safer and more supportive. The idea is to help students recognize mean and cruel behavior for what it is, and then do something about it when it happens.

I recently had the privilege of sitting in on Principal Travis Manley and Counselor Sara Drabert's presentation to parents on the progress of the Upstander program at  Modesto, California's Orchard Elementary School, in the Sylvan Union Elementary School District. Set to flight in the 2012-13 school year, when 8 students the previous year had been suspended for bullying, Manley reported that in the last 3 years, an average of 1 or less students have been suspended for bullying. In the previous school year, no such suspensions grounded the Principal's little owls from school.

"Orchard administration and staff went to the Upstander training five years ago, and then came back and modified it to fit our school's needs," explained school Principal Manley. "It has really made a difference. Kids really like it, and practically no one gets suspended for bullying anymore."

"It's so rewarding to hear kids talk about how they will stand up against another child who is saying or doing something they should not be doing," expressed school Office Manager, Debbie Moniz. "I believe this program is helping our school and kids to understand other's feelings and how they can make a difference when they follow the Upstander way."

When trained to be upstanders, students are able to stop rumors and harmful messaging in their tracks, encourage others to work together for the benefit of others, reach outside their circle of friends and form new friendships, know the school rules about bullying and what the administration and staff expect them to do about it, welcome new students to the school, respect differences in others, and refuse to just stand by and let their classmates be bullied, instead stepping up and into the gap for those in need.

"An upstander is someone who recognizes when something is wrong, and acts to make it right."

The Gundersen Health System Medical Foundation, on their website called Together Against Bullying, recently provided a summary of the Upstander bully-prevention program, called "Becoming an Upstander." They described the program as teaching children how to move from the more comfortable position of social silence...bystanding, to the more socially responsible position of taking civil action...behavior that is upstanding. 

Research on this approach, reports the Gundersen site, shows that speaking out or taking action stops over half of the instances of bullying immediately, before it has a chance to really get rolling. What Upstander is preparing kids to do actually makes a big difference.


Bystanders either start the bullying, join in on it, laugh at or give attention to it, encourage it, or stand by silently and watch it, or turn their heads the other way. Upstanders either tell the bully to stop, get others to join them to help make the bully stop, help the person who is being bullied to get away, shift the focus from the person being bullied, or tell the nearest adult in charge.

There are 4 basic kinds of bullying; verbal, physical, relational, or technological, and are listed in no particular order of importance.  They are all wrong and must be prevented...especially without coming across as bullying itself.  Turns out words, as well as fists, and sticks and stones, can hurt you. Taking others emotionally hostage is not pleasant or ok either. And the new bully on the block, cyberbullying, may well do more pervasive harm mentally, emotionally and physically than all the other three combined.

Upstanders at Orchard Elementary are taught that standing up for others requires superhero powers that already exist in them. They are Courage, Empathy, and Compassion. To draw out such powers, students take part in strategic training activities, like Crossing the Line, Standing in Another's Shoes, and Trading Glasses.  Capes, I would say, certainly need to be awarded to any student who goes through this preparation and uses it for the benefit of others, because they truly have become superheroes they were meant to be.

And just for good measure, an Orchard Elementary 4th grader demonstrated for me the school hand-sign for being an upstander, and reminding others to be one when need be, when before me he turned his left-hand palm up, placed his right hand two spread fingers on the left palm, then raised a thumbs up afterward, and concluded by holding both palms up and open wide, one extended at each side: "Stand up for Everyone?"

Thank you Orchard Owls for giving a hoot, and making a difference.