ALBANY, Ga. -- In the course of its duties, the Boys & Girls Club of Albany has seen firsthand the impact bullying can have.
The organization's staff recently participated in training for the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program in the hope that they can learn to more effectively address the issue of bullying.
"Bullying is a national issue; everyone has to deal with it," said Lee Wagner, a certified trainer of the program.
Wagner, also the executive director of the Boys & Girls Club of Southwest Georgia, was introduced to the concept about a year ago.
He then took the initial steps to get a version of Olweus up and running through the Boys & Girls Club.
"We are using general information from the program and creating our own process," Wagner said. "It's a process that requires organizations to be on the same page with bullying."
The presentation, given last week, was to jumpstart an 18-24 month consultation period in the course of putting this system into place.
"They (the Boys & Girls staff) need to understand what bullying is, and if it is indeed bullying, treat it as bullying," Wagner said. "When we have a process in place, we need to make sure it is uniform. It should be consistent when dealing with the problem.
"I think this is a good starting point. It's not a quick fix. Rather, it's a long-term process you have to be committed to."
Once a clear definition of bullying has been established, the next step will be to come up with policies and procedures, what the regulations are in regard to the messages that need to be sent to children and making sure everyone is on the same page when it comes to intervention.
"With what is going on in the community, we wanted to prepare the staff for different techniques," said Bob Hutchinson, director of operations for the Boys & Girls Club of Albany. "(Wagner) had different ideas on what we could do to solve the problem.
"We wanted to bring in the whole staff so they could get (guidance) to draw ideas from. We will take this and work with each age group."
Bringing parents in is also an important piece of the puzzle.
"You have to bring parents on board," Wagner explained. "They are a critical piece in resolving bullying.
"Parents are viewed as a partner."
An important piece is also the community as a whole, officials say.
"Kids see other kids do it (bullying) and they think it's all right," Hutchinson said. "We hate to see little kids crying because of someone that is bullying them. We want parents to feel it is safe to bring there kids here.
"The whole community will have to embrace each other. The community knows it's a problem; now it is time to stand up."
In the past, the organization has dealt with bullying from the time of orientation during which it goes over the rules and regulations paperwork with parents in regards to adverse behavior -- which the parent signs and is given a copy.
There is a five-step intervention process. The first offense results in a written warning. After that is probation, followed by a suspension ranging from two to five days in length. On the fifth offense, the child is kicked out of the Boys & Girls Club.
Hutchinson said he hopes this new process will branch out beyond the club's influence.
"I hope that we can develop partnerships with other units and feeder schools," he said. "We want to raise the bar.
"I hope to get my staff trained and blossomed out."
Many children who engage in bullying demonstrate behaviors such as rule-breaking, shoplifting, vandalizing property, carrying a weapon, drinking alcohol and smoking at relatively young ages. There are also clear indications that students who bully, particularly boys, are at a greater risk of continuing on an antisocial path involving crime and substance abuse in young adulthood.
"Bullying impacts everything that we do. We are responsible for building children up," Wagner said. "It goes against what we stand for."
Nationally, 25 percent of students surveyed say they are bullied at school and 282,000 students are physically attacked in school each month. Studies also show that cyber-bullying is quite pervasive in teen society with 42 percent of students having been bullied online, and 35 percent having been threatened online.