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Website launched to streamline local anti-bullying programs, policies

By Jessica Gilbreath
On August 25, 2013

With anonymity of the keyboard and the rising population of classrooms, it seems like preventing bullying between students is a near impossible feat. That’s why UCF professor Philip Koger has created a tool that changes with the fast paced technological times. The Bully-Free Florida Network website is still under construction, but the goal is to create an anti-bullying network that connects organizations and anti-bullying programs throughout the state.

The BFFN offers a one-stop site for educators, anti-bullying advocates, organizations and researchers to learn about policies and programs in other school districts. Through sharing information, cooperating in projects and spreading the word about upcoming events and the latest news, the BFFN strives to bridge the distance between anti-bullying advocates throughout Florida. Koger said he hopes the network will unify the anti-bullying programs throughout the state and provide the tools each district requires to make it easier for students to reach out and get the support they need.

According to Florida statute, every school district in the state must have a policy in place regarding bullying. The BFFN website provides the anti-bullying policies of each school district, so educators and program leaders are able to compare and contrast their own programs with the programs of others.

This connection between anti-bullying communities aims to provide a continuous, uniform program that merges the best aspects of each school district’s policies.

“We’re trying to network these districts and programs to give students the best variety of options," Koger said. "You have to have a continual program where you consistently address the problem because there will always be bullying, but students can deal with it if they have a support structure in their school.”

Koger, who has been working in education for 45 years, said he plans to use the BFFN not only as a source for anti-bullying organizations but also as a teaching tool for future educators.

“I very strongly believe that schools need to create a very positive environment," Koger said. "We require kids and teenagers to go to school, so it’s an obligation we have as a society to create schools that have a positive learning environment, and we’re trying to address this in our preparation for future educators.”

Graduate student and language arts education major Jorge Valentin understands that bullying is an issue in schools and has progressively gotten worse as more students are connecting to social media sites.

“The reality is that bullying is still a very big problem and we need educators to be able to respond quickly and correctly and are able create an environment where kids feel safe and accepted,” Valentin said.

Some school districts are developing new anti-bullying programs that will take effect this year, while others have a continuous anti-bullying system.

“It’s an issue no matter what size,” said Lake County School District spokesman Chris Patton. "It’s something we need to address and something we are working towards to provide a more consistent message to students and our staff.”

Koger said he plans to work with students and individual schools to set up anti-bullying clubs because very few schools have clubs run by students themselves.

“A lot of the time, students don’t realize how hurtful bullying can actually be,” Koger said. “If a bystander stands up and stops a bully, half the time it’s going to prevent further bullying down the line.”

Although Koger’s network is still a work in progress, its goal is to provide the most efficient anti-bullying system for students in the state.

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