Manasquan Elementary School this school year is partnering with an anti-bullying program coordinated by researchers from Princeton University, officials said.
The Roots Program, an anti-harassment, intimidation and bullying (HIB) program, will survey the school's seventh- and eighth-grade students throughout the 2012-13 school year to track the school's HIB climate and develop bottom-up intervention that centers on students' perceptions of their social world, according to a release from school counselor Nancy Sanders and Principal Colleen Graziano.
The program focuses on changing student perceptions and behavior by using small groups of student leaders, selected based on the survey results, to serve as role models discouraging bullying and encouraging "inclusive, tolerant behavior," the release says.
The program's directors, Betsy Levy Paluck and Hana Shepherd, who work as researchers in the university's psychology department, will use the data collected to give school officials "extensive feedback" on the school's current HIB climate and recommendations for future action, the release says.
"The program is based on extensive social scientific research and previous piloting of this program in other public middle and high schools," the release says.
Funding for the program comes from the WT Grant Foundation, the Spencer Foundation and the Education Research Section at Princeton University, the release says. There will be no cost to the school district.
All information collected in the surveys will be kept confidential, and student names will be replaced with random identification numbers, the release says.
The surveys will ask students to report on behaviors they percieve to be "desirable" in their social groups, helping administrators understand what they consider to be an "acceptable" experience at school, the release says.
Students will be surveyed three times this year -- the beginning, middle and end of the school year -- during one class period, according to details on the program from the university.
As the surveys measure school climate throughout the year, the administration will receive progress reports and a summary at the end of the year on the trajectory of the school's climate regarding HIB behavior, the release says.
"The core of the program is based on measuring school climate throughout the school year, and on systematically identifying students who are in positions to positively influence school climate using a cutting edge survey measurement technique known as social network mapping," the release says.
The progam will invite those students perceived as "influential" by their peers to trained and supported in promoting an anti-bullying climate, the release says.
"The students act as 'roots' to influence perceptions that HIB is atypical and undesirable at the school, through face-to-face interactions with peers, texting, and online social media sites," the release says.
Previous pilot programs at other schools revealed "significant improvements" in student HIB-related behavior, the researchers say.
A personal program manager assigned to the school will administer and monitor the program, the release says.
The manager will oversee the administration of the surveys -- teachers will also be surveyed at the beginning and end of the year -- and meet every two months with the selected student leaders, the release says.
"Schools will be provided with qualitative and quantitative data on the degree and types of HIB in the school, both prior to and during the year or program implementation, feedback on program success, and training to continue the initiative in subsequent years," the release says.
The researchers will also be requesting parental consent to conduct the student surveys by sending a notification to all parents, asking them to opt-out if they don't want their child to participate, the release says.
The four categories of survey questions are: perceived school norms regarding HIB, perceived HIB behaviors at the school, friendship interactions at the school, and attitudes toward HIB behaviors, the release says.
The two Princeton researchers will monitor and evaluate the program over the course of the school year, the release says.
"They will give your school extensive feedback on what worked, the nature of HIB in your school, results to communicate to parents and school boards in compliance with anti-bullying legislation, and recommendations for future action," the release says.
Manasquan Elementary's first school-wide survey is slated for late September, early October, the release says.
In October, the program manager will identify the "roots students" using the survey results and begin scheduling the bi-monthly meetings, the release says.
The survey will be repeated in January or May, and again in May or June, the release says.