New anti-bullying program targets 30K students in Central Indiana

Advocates: Bullying leads to dropouts and crime

INDIANAPOLIS - As more than 30,000 Indiana children return to school this week, an important statistic to consider is that 1 in 4 kids will be bullied and 1 in 20 will drop out because of the bullying.

Social Health Association is launching the Step Up For Kindness initiative, thanks to a $100,000 grant from Impact 100.

CEO Tonja Eagan said the comprehensive program will provide four hours of bully-free education to 30,800 kids, kindergarten through 8th grade.

"The curriculum teaches kindness, empathy, good character, being an up-stander and helping someone if you see someone being bullied. So we're trying to teach all those character qualities so we can create cultures of kindness in our schools and in our communities," Eagan said.

Eagan said teaching this program will affect dropout rates and crime rates in the future.

"If you're a bully, you are 400-percent more likely to have a criminal record as an adult. It's very significantly tied," she said. "We want to identify that early on and say, 'we need to help this person now so they can evolve to be a productive citizen.'"

Dr. Allan Beane, president of Bully Free Systems, said that positive behaviors have to be taught and reinforced.

"It has to become a way of living in schools. It's not something you do. You don't have bullying prevention month and you're done or a school assembly program or a one-hour training for faculty. There are a lot of strategies that have to be put into place with a curriculum," Beane said.

Parent Tracey Heaton deMartinez has two children that attend Indianapolis Public Schools.

"I really like that this curriculum has that parent-chat part so that we are intentional about it. (For example) 'Hey, how was your day? Where's your homework?' They're not going to say, 'And, oh, by the way, I was bullied'. This way it invites that conversation, which I appreciate," Heaton deMartinez said.

The $100,000 grant will pay for the program for two years. During that time an independent third party will be studying the effectiveness of the program. If effective, the program could be expanded throughout the state.

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