ROACHDALE -- The consequences of not dealing with a case of cyber bullying can last a lot longer than a bruise or black eye from a physical fight, a fact high school principal Alan Zerkel and other administrators within the North Putnam Community School Corporation are in the process of trying to monitor more closely.
"It's instantaneous. It isn't just finding a note in your locker or writing something in a notebook," he said.
"You might get five or six or more, or you might find that it's been sent to hundreds of people."
At the beginning of this school year, the district began committee training on the Olweus Bullying program at the elementary schools; the middle and high school coordinating committees were trained on Aug. 31 and Sept. 1.
The coordinating committees, comprised of the building principal, general education and special education teachers, school counselors, parents, instructional assistants and bus drivers, will be joined in training by all district staff members during the first semester.
The program will begin after a school kick-off day in January, Superintendent Mary Sugg Lovejoy announced at the district's board member in September.
"The old mentality of 'just suck it up and get over it' and 'be a big guy, be a big gal,' I'm not sure that ever worked, but that's what people used to do all the time," Zerkel said. "Now that's probably one of the worst things in the world."
Going through high school and middle school can be a difficult time for just about anyone, which is why the importance of bullying prevention has become a top priority for Zerkel and the rest of the district.
"It seems like a lot of them become targets. They don't feel important enough, they don't feel adequate, they're not the star of this or the star of that," Zerkel said. "We don't want to just disagree with someone; we want to tear them apart."
The building counselors are responsible for coordinating the Olweus Bullying Program in each school, and its something high school counselor Tyler Egli said he believes will have a lasting effect on students.
"I know that this will impact our students and hopefully the rest of their lives," he said.
Starting a bullying prevention program is crucial in a high school setting because it is at that time students are learning who they are, he said.
"They're trying to figure out their identity. They're trying to figure out who they are, what their purpose is," Egli said. "So when they start hearing these lies (from bullies), they start to believe them. It's a tremendous burden on their hearts."
According to the program's website, Olweus has been implemented in more than a dozen countries across the world and is a "comprehensive, school-wide program designed and evaluated for use in elementary, middle, or junior high schools."
Its goals are "to reduce and prevent bullying problems among school children and to improve peer relations at school," and has so far seen a reduction in reported cases of bullying in schools where it's been put in place.
One study that examined six rural school districts in 1998 reported a 16 percent reduction in students' self-reports of bullying others among intervention schools with students in grades 4 through 7, according to the website.
Zerkel said the focus of the program in the North Putnam district is to find out how to stop bullying and teasing that gets out of control during the school day.
"A lot of these kids are giving their friends signs like I can't take it anymore and they keep pounding away," Zerkel said. "I'm not saying the schools are causing these things to happen. A school is just where all of these people are together."
Egli said aside from physical fighting and taunting, which is often easier to target, cyber bullying is harder to control and monitor.
"It's much easier for them to do because it's not in person," he said. "It's much easier to bash on somebody or make someone feel bad when you're not facing them."