Bullying has been a big topic in the news as of late, with school administrators and parents scrambling to react to tragedies like the suicides of Tyler Clementi and Phoebe Price. School assemblies on bullying teach kids what bullying is and how to prevent it — an an ideal world. But one thing that both parents and kids seem to agree on is that while anti-bullying programs make kids more aware of bullying, they really don't do much to lessen the bullying itself in the real world.

Until now.

A new research-based program out of the University of Washington has found a way to teach kids empathy with their peers while building friendships that help kids stand up for one another against bullies. They've got the numbers behind their program to show this program might just be getting it right.

According to a study published in the Journal of Educational Psychology, the Steps to Respect program led to a 31 percent decline in bullying and a 70 percent decline in destructive bystander behavior (when kids just stand by and watch, or worse, egg a bully on.)

For the study, researchers observed 360 students and surveyed 624 students in six Puget Sound area schools. Compared with students who did not participate in the program, the students who participated in the Steps to Respect program were less likely to bully other students, to let other students by bullied, and to display aggressive behavior towards each other.  

The program has the usual lessons on recognizing bullying and resolving conflict, but it also focuses on building friendships, controlling rumors, and the ways that bystanders can help to put an end to bullying.

The whole curriculum kit (geared towards grades three through six) is a bit of an investment at $750, but with numbers that show a quantitative decline in bullying, it certainly might be worth an extra fundraiser or two.

I'd certainly buy wrapping paper or cookie dough to support that ... wouldn't you?

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New program leads to decline in bullying and gossip
Steps to Respect takes research-based approach to quash bullying.