(MyNews4.com & KRNV) Ely, Nev. - A middle school principal in Ely has developed a strategy to combat bullying that seems to be working well.
He has taken a school that just a few years ago had a reputation for bullying, and turned it into a place where students say they feel safe, respected and ready to learn.
If you ask former students of White Pine Middle School what their school was like just five years ago, bullying was a problem.
Clay Mauro says; "The school environment was really hostile, it was kind of more of everyone on their own, you came here and you were more afraid than willing to learn."
But today this Cougar campus has a much different feel thanks to an anti-bullying program put in place by Principal Aaron Hansen.
It's basically peer pressure with a positive spin.
Hansen says; "We want to be accepted by our peers and if being accepted means I'm supposed to be nice, that changes things dramatically."
The principal says the first step in changing the school's bullying culture was to define school values, basically how to treat others and then communicate to the students the importance and benefits of those values.
He also began what is called a "defenders program" that shows students how to defend others who are being targeted by bullies.
"Having students take ownership of that, and stand up to our peers and say hey what you're doing is not cool, don't do that."
Another critical piece of this anti-bullying strategy is a confidential student survey handed out three times a year.
"It asks the students, ‘Is there bullying in the school? Where does the bullying happen, so we can improve supervision, what are the behaviors and who are the students?'"
The principal, vice principal and school counselor go over the surveys and identify the bullies who are named repeatedly.
Hansen says the survey is not about punishing those students but making them aware of their actions and figuring out why they are bullying in the first place.
Hansen says "I sit down with these students; ‘The thing is you have been named as a bully and not nice. How do you feel about that?' We have a conversation; we talk about what the behaviors are. Some are surprised, some change right there by knowing they are on a list, some take more intervention than that."
The bully surveys have gone out over the last three school years. Slowly the school has changed from a place where bullying is accepted to a place where the students have defined it as taboo.
Hansen says "We've seen a dramatic decrease in the number of students who end up on the list, and some of the students who have turned around and become some of the biggest defenders."
And these former students agree the changes they made a few years ago paved the way for younger siblings.
Jessi Poulsen who has a sibling who just graduated says it's been a better environment for her younger sister.
"She wasn't around when it was bad before peer mediation and bully surveys, so she kind of went through middle school; it was a lot better for her."
Aaron Hansen the principal also told News 4 he would be happy to talk to other school administrators who have questions or would like more information about the anti-bullying program they've adopted at White Pine Middle School.