Mercyhurst, Ophelia Project partner on peer aggression pilot project

While the ideal is to create happy, secure, stimulating and caring school environments, that doesn’t always happen. Aggressive behaviors, like bullying, can wreak emotional torment on students.

In an effort to minimize peer aggression, Mercyhurst College and The Ophelia Project of Erie are taking the Creating A Safe School program (CASS) into three local schools this September. The objectives and outcomes of the pilot project will be evaluated by the Mercyhurst Civic Institute over the next two years.

Participating schools are Jefferson Elementary School, the Robert Benjamin Wiley Community Charter School and Our Lady Christian School.

“This is not an anti-bullying program, rather a model for long-term systemic change,” said Ann Bloxdorf, executive director of the local Ophelia Project. “It is a multi-pronged approach designed to promote positive social behaviors in creating a safe school environment.”

Mercyhurst education department graduate students Ashley Behn, Amber Rapose and Carly Eades will work with education specialist Leigh Anne Kraemer from Ophelia in implementing the CASS curriculum in the schools. They’ll work with school administrators, teachers, parents and students to recognize hurtful, covert behaviors of peer aggression and identify and model a more positive set of normative behaviors.

“This is an inclusive process,” Bloxdorf said. “We’ll hold weekly meetings with students, train faculty and hold monthly awareness and prevention programs for all other interested adults.”

The CASS program, which has been presented by Ophelia Project chapters around the country for a number of years, has taken many forms.

“We want to develop a working model that can be used consistently,” Bloxdorf said.

“Our role will be to perform an independent evaluation to determine if the program delivers evidence-based outcomes and is effective in producing results,” said Amy Eisert, director of the Mercyhurst Civic Institute. “We’ll be looking at overall school climate, grades, test scores, attendance and disciplinary referrals.”

In addition, Eisert said, the program will provide Mercyhurst graduate special education students the hands-on opportunity to obtain valuable field and research experience.

The Ophelia Project is funding the two-year pilot program through a $150,000 grant to Mercyhurst College and the Mercyhurst Civic Institute.
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