October 9, 2015

Swearer leads development of new anti-bullying program

Susan Swearer

A successful program to prevent bullying in high school is being expanded to target bullying among middle school students.

Susan Swearer, a University of Nebraska-Lincoln educational psychologist and nationally recognized expert on bullying behavior, played a leadership role in developing the program, called Helping Everyone Achieve Respect, or HEAR.

“We based our development of HEAR for High Schools on a data-driven, decision-making model for responding to bullying among high school students – and it is having a positive impact,” Swearer said. “The new HEAR for Middle Schools program now brings these same benefits to this vulnerable age group where experts agree bullying is an even greater problem.”

The middle school program is being rolled out nationally after Swearer and other UNL researchers tested it in pilot programs in May at three Lincoln middle schools. A total of 585 students from Lefler, Pound and Culler middle schools participated in the pilot, giving feedback that helped refine the presentation.

HEAR is a set of research-based bullying prevention classroom presentations designed to help youth identify bullying behavior, recognize its consequences and reduce bullying in schools and in the community. It has been developed with the assistance of experts from the Harvard Graduate School of Education and from Georgia-based Career Training Concepts Inc., an employee training and personnel services business.

The high school program consists of an interactive classroom presentation, a student workbook, a training manual, PowerPoint slides, a commitment banner, student survey and other research and reference resources. National Guard members deliver the high school program at no cost.

Since its inception two years ago, more than 400,000 student workbooks have been delivered to the Guard for presentations at high schools in 46 states and the District of Columbia.

A survey of participants shows that 90 percent felt that HEAR helped them better understand bullying; 88 percent said the program gave them useful ideas for action when they witness bullying; and 89 percent said HEAR strengthened their commitment to respecting and others.

The middle school program has a similar structure to the high school program, though adapted to meet the specific, age-appropriate needs of middle school students. Swearer and Richard Weissbourd, co-director of the “Making Caring Common” anti-bullying project at Harvard Graduate School of Education, emphasized the importance of giving students hands-on guidance.

“While awareness of bullying in our schools has certainly grown over the past decade, teachers and school counselors still have an urgent need for cost-effective, data-based strategies and curriculum that engaged students directly,” Weissbourd said.