In 2017, this publication covered a program at Curtis Middle School that addressed bullying by then Principal Marlene Bicondova who started it in 2015.
Fast-forward to 2019 and Bicondova is now the Director of Positive Youth Development for the San Bernardino City Unified School District.
Bicondova has now implemented a district-wide anti-bullying intervention system known as Undercover Anti-Bulling Teams (UABT) that is similar to the one created during her time at Curtis. Stephanie Fletcher and Michelle Myers are part of Bicondova’s team; both of them are experts in restorative practices and were former on-site counselors in elementary and high school.
While the program has only been around for a year, Bicondova says 42 schools in the district are now using the UABT program.
When a case of bullying arises parents and kids can call or come into the Youth Services Department. However, if a child who is being bullied or is a witness to bullying is too embarrassed to report in person they (the child) are provided a QR code (Quick Response code) that can be used with any smart-phone to report anonymously. The department then within 24 business hours following the report of bullying schedules an appointment for a screening with the child and the parent to determine if it’s bulling. Bicondova says that 50 percent to 60 percent of bullying cases reported are due to “conflict,” which is addressed through “restorative practices” to help resolve the conflict.
If it is determined to be bulling a team of six influential peers are secretly assembled as an anti-bullying team. Together they are told the victim’s story and struggles (without identifying who is doing the bullying) and they are assigned the mission to look out for their classmates, the support of the influential peer(s) helps the student being bullied feel welcome and discourages the person doing the bullying from continuing. At the start and throughout the process the student being bullied is asked to rate the bullying on a scale of zero to 10, 10 being the worst, and once they reach a zero rating the team is informed, they are congratulated with a party, thanked by the principal and the team is disbanded.
Bicondova tells us that the UABT program has stopped a number of serious cases that a child was about to commit suicide due to bullying.
According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, 5,016 males between 15-24 years old have committed suicide in 2017 in addition to 1,225 females in that same year. A separate study from the JAMA Network reported that suicides among girls and young women have “followed a steady upward trajectory since 2000, roughly doubling between then and 2017.”
Bicondova wanted to emphasize that nowhere in the plan are the influential kids are going after bullies and that the district “is not putting kids in harm's way.”
Myers says “they want kids to work together to encourage kindness, respect and acceptance.”
There have been 157 cases as of October 2019 referred to the district, 64 were confirmed to be bullying assigned a UABT team. Forty teams have been successful. Twelve teams as of the date of this publication are in progress.
If a case is not determined to be bullying, other restorative practices such as Positive Behavior Intervention Support (PBIS), Restorative Justice Practices and Social-Emotional Learning are used. The district also provides programs on-site that celebrate diversity, which includes Best Buddies, Gay-Straight Alliance and the Heritage Club.
Assemblyman James Ramos created AB 1767 and AB 34 in regards to bullying and suicide prevention this year that were later was signed into law by Governor Newsom. By the 2020-21 school year AB 1767 will require schools to adopt a policy on suicide prevention for kindergarten and grades 1 to 6. It would also provide additional funding for mental health programs to Californian schools. By the 2020-21 academic year AB 34 addresses the issue of social bullying in our school systems by requiring schools and local education agencies to create a “Social Bullying and Harassment Prevention Handbook” that will be clearly posted online. According to Ramos’ office, “The schools/school districts/local educational agencies will get one-time reimbursements to implement each of these laws.” This means that the school can spend their own money on implementing their programs and then later file for reimbursement from the state
Bicondova says if the district received more funding for their department “it would be super beneficial.”
For more information on SBCUSD’s Anti-Bully Intervention System go to sbcusd.com/bullying or call the Youth Services Department at (909) 880-6812.