URC

Effects of an Afterschool Program to Prevent Bullying on Violence Prevention Beliefs and Behaviors: A Pilot Study

Cassandra Hester
Alaina Kramer
Kaitlyn McManus
Cody Campbell
Brandon Stewart

Truman State University

Abstract

In a rural school district with some of the highest rates of bullying in the state, the Aggressors, Victims, and Bystanders: Thinking and Acting to Prevent Violence classroom-based program (AVB) was implemented in an afterschool program setting and delivered using community-based personnel because of lack of time and staffing in the regular school day schedule. High-risk middle school student participants enrolled in an afterschool program for academic support completed the Pre-Post AVB Survey instrument before the first lesson of the 12-lesson AVB curriculum and immediately following the last lesson of the curriculum.

Participants' significantly increased their overall confidence that they could prevent violence in their school and lives, significantly decreased their beliefs that support violence, and significantly decreased their behaviors supportive of violence (p <.001). Although the program was developed to be implemented as a school-based intervention, in urban areas, and taught by school personnel; this study has provided data to suggest that it may also be effective in the rural, afterschool setting and taught by non-school personnel.

Introduction

Bullying, a major public health problem among youth, involves aggressive verbal, social, or physical behaviors directed at youth with less perceived power from youth with more perceived power. Repeated and unwanted, these behaviors may include verbal or written taunting and threats, spreading rumors about others, and physically injuring others or their possessions (U.S. Department of Health & Human Services [USHHS], 2013). Youth who are bullied can experience negative mental and social health issues, and youth who bully are more likely to engage in other risky, unhealthy behaviors such as criminal activity, school drop-out, substance abuse, and sexual activity as well as spousal abuse in the future (USHHS, 2013). Bullying commonly occurs when others are present, and about 30 percent of US youth have been involved in bullying events as either a bully, a victim, or a bystander (Orpinas & Horne, 2006). Bullies, usually more physically or verbally aggressive than their targets, may bully to gain self-esteem or popularity (Conners, 2013). They tend to be more socially isolated, depressed, and perceive violence as a positive behavior used to connect with peers and to dominate others (USHHS, 2013). Unfortunately, the aggressive behaviors persist over time and may even continue into adulthood (Cooper & Nickerson, 2013).

Prime targets for victimization are usually those youth who seem less powerful, do not generally fit-in, are possibly new to the school, or even possess a disability (USHHS, 2013; Conners, 2013). Victims of bullying are more at risk for mental and physical health concerns such as stress and depression as well as school absence (USHHS, 2013). Boy victims more commonly experience abusive acts and assaults, while girl victims experience more social isolation (Sesar, Simic, & Sesar, 2013). Both boy and girl victims of repetitive aggression, however, may experience academic and mental health problems and in some instances suicide or homicide if taken to the extreme (Orpinas & Horne, 2006). Bystanders, witnesses to bullying incidents, can be either part of the problem (by joining in, encouraging the bully, or being a willing audience for the bully) or part of the solution, making them the key to bullying prevention. As outsiders with no stake in the situation, they have the chance to prevent an attack and to take a stand (Orpinas &Horne, 2006).

Characteristics of effective bullying prevention programs include structured, prevention-focused, skill-based curricular lessons with ample time for participants to practice learned skills. The bullying prevention skills taught in successful curricula should consist of communication skills, interpersonal relationship skills, emotional management, and problem-solving/goal-setting skills. In addition, policies and procedures for reporting bullying should also be covered (Jones, Doces, Swearer, & Collier, 2012).

One prevention program, shown to be effective, is Aggressors, Victims, and Bystanders: Thinking and Acting to Prevent Violence (AVB). AVB effectively prevents or reduces violence in middle school participants by altering patterns of violent behavior using non-violent problem-solving skills as well as thinking through potentially violent situations in all three roles: aggressor, victim, and bystander.

Following the four-step Think-First Model of Conflict Resolution, program participants practice how to re-define conflict situations in order to respond in a positive, non-violent manner. The program, consisting of a 12-lesson curriculum, demonstrated particular effectiveness for youth exposed to high levels of violence and is based on the theory that cognition can mediate aggression (National Registry of Evidence-based Programs and Practices, 2013). In studies, passive bystander behavior was reduced, problem-solving skills were improved, beliefs supportive of violence decreased in program participants (Paige, 2001), and attitudes toward victims improved (Dempsey, 2009).

In the state of Missouri, almost 3percent of youth have been in a fight, and one-fifth have been bullied in the past year (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2009). In a rural Northeast Missouri county, over 6 percent of youth report being made fun of in the past 3 months, more than one-fifth report being bullied or in a fight, almost 50 percent of students feel it is all right to beat people up if they start the fight, and over 8 percent have been threatened or injured with a weapon in the past 12 months (Missouri Department of Mental Health, 2013). In addition, county youth law violation referrals are far higher than the state average (Missouri Department of Mental Health, 2012). Risk factors such as community instability, transition, and proportion of young males in this county are higher than the state average (Missouri Department of Mental Health, 2013).

In this rural county's school district with some of the highest rates of bullying in the state and no middle school-specific anti-bullying curriculum previously offered, the AVB program was chosen as an intervention. A skills-based curriculum that possessed many characteristics of effective programs, AVB however demonstrated its effectiveness in urban school-based settings delivered by school-based personnel. The school district, though, implemented the curriculum as a pilot study in the afterschool program setting and delivered it using community-based personnel because of lack of time and staffing in the regular school day schedule. The purpose of this study was to conduct the AVB program with high-risk, rural middle school students exposed to high rates of bullying and violence in order to decrease beliefs supporting violence, improve behavior involving violence, and increase beliefs about preventing violence.

Methods

Participants

Twenty-five high-risk students (16 girls/9 boys), all Caucasian, in grades 6-8 enrolled in an afterschool program for academic and social support were initially identified to participate in a 4-week long bullying prevention curriculum and study integrated into their afterschool program activities. After Institutional Review Board approval, principal consent, parent consent, and student consent, 72 percent (18/25; 10 girls and 8 boys) freely volunteered to participate. When the afterschool program director contacted the parents of non-participants as follow-up, many reported that they did not have time to complete the paperwork or were not interested in their child receiving instruction that was not specifically related to their daily homework assignments.

Instrument

The Pre-Post AVB Survey instrument was used as the assessment tool to determine any change in participants' beliefs supporting violence, behavior involving violence, and beliefs about preventing violence from before the first lesson of the curriculum to immediately following the last lesson of the curriculum. The instrument included 3 sections: My Beliefs About Violence/Beliefs Supporting Violence Scale, My Behavior/Self-Rated Behavior Scale, and My Beliefs About Preventing Violence/Violence Prevention Efficacy Scale.

Section 1, My Beliefs About Violence, included 12 statements about whether violence is OK, increases your self-esteem, avoids a negative image, and is deserved. Participants were to choose one number on a Likert scale (1=completely disagree to 6=agree completely) that described what they believe. Section 2, My Behavior, included 16 questions about aggressive behavior, victim behavior, bystander behavior, and peace-keeper behavior. Participants were to choose one number on a Likert scale (1=completely disagree to 6=agree completely) that described how they behave in each situation. Section 3, My Beliefs About Preventing Violence, included nine statements about general, specific, and personal efficacy beliefs. Participants were to choose one number on a Likert scale (1=completely disagree to 6=agree completely) that described what they believe about preventing violence (Slaby, 2000). After external, independent review, research quality was rated as 2.2/4.0 with high test-retest reliability, internal subscale item consistency, and high predictive validity; and readiness for dissemination was rated as 2.8/4.0 (National Registry of Evidence-based Programs and Practices, 2013)

In order to maintain confidentiality, participants were instructed not to place their name or any identifying marks on the pre-post-tests, and the tests were administered by the afterschool program director rather than the instructors. After participants completed the pre-post-tests, the administrator collected them and placed them in a large envelope and sealed the envelope. As soon as the data were recorded, all tests were shredded.

Procedure

During spring 2013, before the first lesson in the curriculum, all 18 participants completed the pre-test. One lesson of the 12- lesson AVB curriculum was taught every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday in the afterschool program over the next four weeks. The program was developed to be taught by school personnel; however a two-person teaching team of community volunteers from the local university were used as instructors due to lack of time and personnel in the regular school day. By integrating the Think-First Model of Conflict Resolution across the lessons and using active-learning activities, the interactive curriculum allowed participants to practice skills in a variety of role-plays. The lesson topics included Session 1: Looking at Conflict in Our Lives, Session 2: When Conflicts Become Violence, Session 3: Examining Beliefs About Conflict and Violence, Session 4: The Fight in Your Head , Session 5: Keeping Cool, Session 6: Sizing Up the Situation, Session 7: Sizing Up the Situation Again, Session 8: Thinking It Through, Session 9: Thinking It Through Again, Session 10: Doing the Right Thing, Session 11: Delivering the Message, and Session 12: Visions of a Nonviolent World (Slaby, 2000). After the last lesson in the curriculum, all 18 participants completed the post-test.

Analysis

To analyze pre-post program change in: violence prevention efficacy (Violence Prevention Efficacy Scale), beliefs supporting violence (Beliefs Supporting Violence Scale), and self-rated behaviors (Self-Rated Behavior Scale), three separate summated scores were computed. Independent-sample t tests were used to determine statistical differences in all three summated scores between the pre- and post-tests. The independent-sample t test was used over a paired-sample t test because pre- and post-test scores could not be matched.

To analyze pre-post program changes in all subscales, a total of 14 paired-samples t tests were conducted. Given the large number of analyses conducted, a Bonferonni correction was made to address Family Wise Error Rate.

Results

In regard to pre-post program change in mean scores for the Violence Prevention Efficacy Scale, an independent-sample t test, assessing differences in "Violence Prevention Efficacy" between the pre-test assessment (M=44.66.; SD=5.50) and post-test assessment (M=53.00; SD=1.41) revealed a statistically significant difference (t(17)=-6.887, p<.001).

In regard to pre-post program changes in mean scores for the Beliefs Supporting Violence Scale, an independent-sample t test, assessing differences in "Beliefs Supporting Violence" between the pre-test assessment (M=23.38.; SD=7.08) and post-test assessment (M=16.44; SD=2.97) revealed a statistically significant difference (t(17)=4.754, p<.001).

In regard to pre-post program changes in mean scores for the Self-Rated Behavior Scale, an independent-sample t test, assessing differences in "Self-rated Behavior" between the pre-test assessment (M=33.86.; SD=12.29) and post-test assessment (M=24.46; SD=7.38) revealed a statistically significant difference (t(14)=5.6982, p<.001).

In addition, for the 14 subscales, the t tests revealed 10 statistically significant pre-post changes between subscales (Table 1). No statistically significant changes, however, were found in the "Violence Increases Your Self-esteem" (t(17)=2.464, p>.001), "Violence is Deserved" (t(17)=2.062, p>.001), "Aggressive Behavior"(t(15)=4.273, p>.001), and "Victim Behavior" (t(17)=2.853, p>.001) subscales, after the Bonferonni correction was made.

Table 1. Pre-post changes between subscales

Subscales

Pre/
Post

N

Mean

Standard Deviation

Significance

Total Beliefs Supporting Violence Pre 18 23.3889 7.08884 p <0.001
Post 18 16.4444 2.97484
Violence is OK Pre 18 4.8889 1.84355 p <0.001
Post 18 3.1667 0.70711
Violence Increases Your Self-esteem Pre 18 4.1111 1.77859 p >0.001
Post 18 3.1667 0.70711
Violence Avoids a Negative Image Pre 18 6.3889 2.30444 p <0.001
Post 18 3.7778 0.80845
Violence is Deserved Pre 18 8.0000 3.42997 p >0.001
Post 18 6.3333 1.57181
Total Behavior Involving Violence Pre 15 33.8667 12.29905 p <0.001
Post 15 24.4667 7.38596
Aggressive Behavior Pre 16 6.7500 2.86356 p >0.001
Post 16 5.0625 1.73085
Victim Behavior Pre 18 8.0556 4.29051 p >0.001
Post 18 7.3333 3.46410
Bystander Behavior Supporting Violence Pre 16 7.6875 2.93754 p <0.001
Post 16 5.1875 1.27639
Peace-keeper Behavior Pre 17 11.4118 4.00092 p <0.001
Post 17 7.6471 3.18082
Totally Efficacy Beliefs Pre 18 44.6667 5.50935 p <0.001
Post 18 53.0000 1.41421
General Efficacy Beliefs Pre 18 14.4444 2.09263 p <0.001
Post 18 17.2222 1.11437
Specific Efficacy Beliefs Pre 18 15.1111 1.99673 p <0.001
Post 18 17.9444 0.23570
Personal Efficacy Beliefs Pre 18 15.1111 2.21993 p <0.001
Post 18 17.8333 0.38348

Discussion

Participants in this study were generally exposed to levels of violence higher than the average rates in their state, especially for being hurt by bullies and threatened or injured by a weapon on school grounds (Missouri Department of Mental Health, 2013). Developed for the school setting and urban locations, AVB demonstrated effectiveness with youth from areas with high levels of violence (National Registry of Evidence-based Programs and Practices, 2013). In this study, too, in an afterschool setting in a rural area with high rates of bullying, participants' significantly increased their overall confidence that they can prevent violence in their school and lives, significantly decreased their beliefs that support violence, and significantly decreased their behaviors supportive of violence.

These positive changes in overall beliefs and behaviors are consistent with previous studies and provide support for the Think-First Model of Conflict Resolution based on the theory that cognition can mediate aggression (National Registry of Evidence-based Programs and Practices, 2013). Because many students are at-risk for violence as victim, bully, or bystander (Orpinas & Horne, 2006), the curriculum provided participants the opportunity to practice appropriate behavior following the Think-First Model in each of these roles. Healthy beliefs and behaviors were strongly reinforced throughout the curriculum. For example, Session 3: Examining Beliefs About Conflict and Violence focused on decreasing beliefs supportive of violence, and Session 5: Keeping Cool, Session 6: Sizing Up the Situation, Session 7: Sizing Up the Situation Again, Session 8: Thinking It Through, Session 9: Thinking It Through Again, and Session 10: Doing the Right Thing all emphasized and reviewed positive behaviors.

Significant improvements may also have been demonstrated because AVB, an evidence-based program, followed recommendations for best practices for effective bullying prevention programs. Each lesson was skill-focused and allowed for highly-interactive practice time (Jones et al., 2012). No statistically significant changes, however, were found in the subscales of "Violence Increases Your Self-esteem", "Violence is Deserved," "Aggressive Behavior," and "Victim Behavior." Although all mean scores decreased, the decrease was not significant. Possibly because participants lived and attended school in an area where it was common to spread lies, make fun of others, and hurt others through texting or bullying (Missouri Department of Mental Health, 2013), it was still very difficult to overcome their environment.

Although the program was developed to be implemented as a school-based intervention, in urban areas, and taught by school personnel, this study provided data to suggest that it may also be effective in the rural, afterschool setting and taught by non-school personnel. The afterschool program in this study, was modeled as an extension of the school day with homework, physical activity, snack, and tutoring as the main activities. Because afterschool was so similar in schedule to the regular school day and the lesson plans were very classroom-oriented, participants might have viewed the integration of AVB as just a regular class and behaved accordingly. Although the program was implemented with rural students, pro-bullying and pro-violence attitudes and behaviors still changed. Lastly, the instructors for this program were community volunteers from the local university who had limited previous knowledge and teaching experience. Possibly because the well-structured lessons and interactive curriculum (scenarios to role-play, recall activities, and homework) were not highly-dependent on instructor skill or knowledge, non-school personnel could easily follow the lesson plans and guide students in meeting lesson objectives.

Limitations of this pilot study include a small sample size of rural youth in a high-risk area of one state, making it difficult to generalize findings. Because of a lack of a control group, changes may not have been due to the program itself. It would be useful to replicate this study with a larger sample in other afterschool and community-based settings with non-school personnel as program leaders. If the findings of this pilot study are confirmed in larger, more definitive studies and AVB can be expanded into not only the afterschool setting but also the community-based setting and led by non-school professionals, the reach of the program can be extended. The public health consequences of youth violence include increased mental health concerns, drop-out, substance abuse (USHHS, 2013), as well as the possibility that the young aggressor's actions may persist into their adulthood (Cooper & Nickerson, 2013). Therefore, getting effective programs to at-risk youth early in their school careers and in a variety of settings is important to prevent this pervasive problem.

References

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2009). Youth On-line: High School YRBS. Retrieved January 5, 2013 from http://apps.nccd.cdc.gov/youthonline/App/Results.aspx?...

Conners, S. (2013). Bullying - how do we protect our children? Retrieved January 5, 2013 from http://www.tsa-usa.org/aeduc_advoc/bullying.htm  

Cooper, L., & Nickerson, A. (2013). Parent Retrospective Recollections of Bullying and Current Views, Concerns, and Strategies to Cope with Children's Bullying. Journal of Child & Family Studies, 22(4), 526-540.

Dempsey, A. (2009). Aggression and victimization in middle school: a mixed methods analysis of the process and effectiveness of implementing a prevention program. (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). Retrieved December 1, 2012 from http://etd.fcla.edu/UF/UFE0022510/dempsey_a.pdf

Jones, L., Doces, M., Swearer, S., & Collier, A. (2012). Implementing bullying prevention programs in schools: A how-to guide. The Kinder and Braver World Project: Research Series. Retrieved January 17, 2013 from http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/sites/cyber.law.harvard.edu/files/ImplementingBullyingPrevention.pdf

Missouri Department of Mental Health. (2013). Behavioral health profile. Retrieved February 15, 2013 from http://dmh.mo.gov/docs/ada/Progs/MOBHEW/profiles/29001_adair_profile.pdf

Missouri Department of Mental Health. (2012). Substance abuse and mental health indicators. Retrieved December 20, 2012 from http://dmh.mo.gov/docs/ada/countylinks/Indicators2010/e005.pdf

National Registry of Evidence-based Programs and Practices. (2013). Aggressors, Victims, and Bystanders: Thinking and Acting To Prevent Violence. Retrieved December 1, 2012 fromhttp://www.nrepp.samhsa.gov/ViewIntervention.aspx?id=142

Orpinas, P., & Horne, A. M. (2006). Bullying prevention: creating a positive school climate and developing social competence. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association

Paige, R. (2001). U.S. Department of Education. Exemplary and promising safe, disciplined, and drug-free schools programs. Retrieved January 20, 2013 from http://www2.ed.gov/admins/lead/safety/exemplary01/exemplary01.pdf

Sesar, K., Simic, N., & Sesar, D. (2013). The association between bullying behavior, arousal level, coping strategies and psychological adjustment. Pedijatrija Danas: Pediatrics Today, 9(1), 112-128.

Slaby, R. (2000). Aggressors, victims, and bystanders (AVB). Retrieved December 4, 2012 from from http://www.thtm.org/special.htm

U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. (2013). Stopbullying. Retrieved December 6, 2012 from http://www.stopbullying.gov/

 

 


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