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The largest study of bullying prevention in U.S. schools reveals positive impact

Researchers at Clemson and the University of Bergen in Norway recently published positive findings from the largest study of bullying prevention efforts in U.S. schools. In the three-year study, the researchers evaluated nearly 70,000 students across 210 elementary, middle and high schools who had participated in the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program.

They found clear reductions in student reports of being bullied and bullying others. Clemson’s Institute on Family and Neighborhood Life is the training and consultation hub for the Olewus program in North, Central and South America.

According to Sue Limber, Clemson professor and author of the study, the results were stronger the longer the program was in place: “It’s encouraging to see that despite some more ingrained behaviors in older students, we still see quite positive responses in later grades.”

The study also found increases in students’ expressions of empathy and decreases in students’ willingness to join in bullying. The success of the program is encouraging for students and schools, according to Dan Olweus, author of the study and founder of the Olwus program.

“This study clearly shows bullying prevention efforts can positively affect behaviors and perceptions of students of all ages,” said Olweus. “Given the scarcity of positive results from anti-bullying programs in the U.S., this new study is a breakthrough.”

Students receive prestigious Fulbright and Boren awards

Justin Giles

An economics major, Giles was selected for the Boren Scholarship, created by the National Security Education Program for students who want to work in the national security arena. Giles is the second Clemson student to receive this scholarship. He will spend a full academic year in Tanzania, where he will stay with a Tanzanian family, learn Swahili and intern with a local company.

Irene Cheng

Cheng, who graduated with a dual degree in bioengineering and modern languages with a focus in Mandarin Chinese, is the first Clemson student chosen for the Boren Fellowship, which was created by the National Security Education Program. It provides funding for select graduate students to study less-common languages in foreign regions that are critical to U.S. interests. Cheng will live in Chengdu, China, for 10 months to study Mandarin and participate in a medical internship.

Sloan Nietert

A mathematical sciences and computer science double major, Nietert was selected for a Fulbright Award. The Fulbright program aims to increase understanding between citizens of the United States and of other countries. Nietert will spend nine months in Hungary, learning Hungarian and researching high-dimensional geometric structures at the Alfréd Rényi Institute of Mathematics.

‘They gave me back my hope’

Chastyn Webster graduated from Clemson in May with a bachelor’s degree in psychology. Along the way, she volunteered with Alternative Spring Break, was a research team member with Aspire to Be Well and Tigers Together to Stop Suicide, and a member of Sigma Kappa. She plans to pursue a master’s degree in social work.

Long before her arrival as a freshman, Webster had experienced a different side of Clemson — one that has served more than 5,000 marginalized youth ranging from students with autism to teenage mothers in foster care to low-level juvenile offenders. She had been part of a program at Clemson’s Youth Learning Institute. YLI creates and delivers programs for youth and families throughout the state.

“Every kid is at risk, including mine, and every kid deserves a chance,” said Cody Greene, director of at-risk programs at YLI. Greene has spent the past 18 years at YLI, 14 of them as director of the Youth Development Center at Camp Long in Aiken, where Webster was placed by court order at the age of 15. Through team building, experiential learning, life and leadership skills development, and a heavy dose of fun, students are able to envision and achieve different paths for their lives.

“The kids who come through our programs are rich, poor, black, white, Hispanic, Asian — you name it,” Greene said. “They need positive role models and a safe, nurturing environment, the same as all of us.”

Carlos Gore is the current director at the YDC, where he’s worked for almost 11 years. “Our students are no different than you and I,” he said. “They made poor choices due to circumstances that we take for granted.”

Gore remembers Webster’s early days at Camp Long: “She felt like everyone was against her. It took her awhile to know the things we were saying would help her.”

Webster was at Camp Long for the whole summer, returning home a week before school started. “Being there was good for me,” she said, “because I was separated long enough from the people I claimed were my friends.”

She struggled for the next year, she said. “It took awhile not to want to return to all those friends I had before, but I decided I wanted more for myself.” Because of her experience at YDC, she set her sights on attending Clemson and studying psychology, with the encouragement of her father.

Webster has now returned to Camp Long, this time on staff as a behavior modification specialist for the YDC, working with teenage girls. “I can’t relate to everything because I’ve had privileges that some of them will never have,” Webster said, “but I know what it’s like to feel hopeless. When I was their age, I thought everyone in the world was against me.”

Hope, she said, is the key. “It could have been a terrible time in my life, but it wasn’t. It was tough some days for sure, but we had lots of fun times. They allowed me to feel like a kid again — which I was — instead of a misfit of society. They gave me back my hope.”

Learn more about the Youth Learning Institute.

History in Plain Sight

Students and faculty were busy over the summer, unearthing remnants to help tell the stories of the men, women and children who lived and worked as slaves during the antebellum era on the Fort Hill property, today a part of Clemson’s campus.

The historic Fort Hill property was home to South Carolina statesman John C. Calhoun and later the University’s namesake, Thomas Green Clemson, and his wife, Anna Calhoun Clemson. While their time on the property is well-recorded, the lives of enslaved African-Americans are largely undocumented.

David Markus, an archaeologist and visiting lecturer, provided training in archaeological excavation and analysis methods to a dozen students enrolled in his six-week summer course in anthropology. They have carefully moved dirt in areas between Fort Hill and nearby residence halls where a kitchen once stood in the house. Historians believe domestic slave quarters and other outbuildings existed in the space.

“We hope to understand more about the daily lives of people who were enslaved at Fort Hill — how they lived and worked — and interpret their stories in a respectful way,” Markus said. “The University has made a commitment to tell its history more completely, and we hope our work will help support that effort.”

Will Hiott is the director of historic properties at Clemson. He said historical archaeology can be a new conduit to the important task of reinterpreting Fort Hill by relocating long-lost plantation buildings where African-Americans once toiled.

“The long-range plans would be to bring that hidden history back to plain sight as the foundations of the kitchen yard, spin house/weave room, laundry — along with the smokehouse and cook’s residence — are excavated,” Hiott said. “Unfortunately, not everything can be unearthed in one summer session, but we see this as a first step in seeking foundations, artifacts and material culture.”

Student researchers developing STEAM workshop model

Graham crackers, marshmallows and toothpicks might not be standard tools for civil engineers, but they’re adequate stand-ins for fourth- and fifth-graders in Clemson College of Education doctoral student Abby Baker’s STEAM workshop. Their objective, using food as construction materials, is to create buildings that can withstand the forces of a gelatin earthquake.

The workshops are part of a Clemson Creative Inquiry project that finds Baker and undergraduate students translating concepts related to science, technology, engineering, the arts and mathematics (STEAM) to a young audience. The lessons are a valuable extension in the education of Clemson students and the fifth-graders they teach, but Baker is also using them to test a model she hopes will address a growing need for students interested in science and math.

Baker had the perfect venue for a STEAM workshop after she and a small group of community leaders transformed the closed Holly Springs Elementary into Holly Springs Center in 2017. She attended the elementary school as a child and now is the center’s director. 

“It felt like the space should be used,” Baker said. “Its purpose is to do something good for the community, and providing quality science and math education falls right in line with that.”

The project measures how effective a team of education and engineering students can be in increasing interest in STEAM fields among K-12 students. Engineering students bring concepts to the table, while education students act as the filter for the younger audience.

If the sessions aren’t reinforcing concepts fourth- and fifth-graders have already encountered in the classroom, they’re introducing what’s to come. The marshmallow towers on gelatin actually cover two state education standards. In the case of sound waves, students learn how different variables affect properties of sound. They also analyze and interpret data to describe and predict how natural processes affect the Earth’s surface.

Baker hopes to one day use a similar model in the students’ own schools and spread the workshops to other parts of the state.

“For many students from under-resourced schools or areas, the concept of college can be a vague thing, but it gets clearer when someone from Clemson is in front of you making these concepts exciting,” Baker said. “This is just another way Clemson can serve all of those students and let them see that a future in these areas is attainable.”