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VCU professor receives $2.66 million grant to study anti-bullying programs in Richmond middle schools

A Virginia Commonwealth University professor has received a $2.66 million federal grant to study the effectiveness of an anti-bullying program in Richmond middle schools.

Terri Sullivan, Ph.D.
Terri Sullivan, Ph.D.

Terri Sullivan, Ph.D., an associate professor in the Department of Psychology in the College of Humanities and Sciences, received the grant from the National Institute of Justice to evaluate the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program, a school-based program that aims to prevent youth violence and bullying in middle schools across the country.

"We hope that this project will make a positive impact in each middle school that is participating with us on this project," Sullivan said. "Specific project goals include enhancing school climate and promoting school safety. We are also hoping to develop a model that can be sustained after the project is over and be used by other communities across the country."

The Olweus Bullying Prevention Program is offered in hundreds of middle schools, though Sullivan said few studies have evaluated its impact on schools in the United States.

The four-year grant will build on an existing research project by VCU's Clark-Hill Institute for Positive Youth Development, led by Albert Farrell, Ph.D., that has collected data from students and teachers about the bullying prevention program in two Richmond middle schools since 2010.

That project, which is funded by the Centers for Disease Control and in partnership with Richmond Public Schools, has been investigating changes in school climate, student behaviors and changes in the community that occur as the program is implemented at each school.

The new grant will allow the researchers to continue implementing the bullying prevention program in the two Richmond middle schools, as well as add a third school.

"We will be able to look at changes in outcomes over time in the two schools where OBPP will have been implemented for five and six years, and to examine changes in outcomes that occur after implementing the program in the third school for three years," Sullivan said.

The new grant will also add a qualitative research component to better understand supports and barriers to implementing the bullying prevention program in these middle schools, and will also add a cost-benefit analysis of the program.

So far, Sullivan said, the bullying prevention program has been well received in the Richmond middle schools by teachers and administrators.

"The two schools where we have implemented the OBPP now have very active committees of school staff who are overseeing some of the day-to-day logistics of the program," she said. "Initial results have been encouraging."

As part of the project, undergraduate VCU students will assist with a variety of tasks, including observing teachers implementing the bullying prevention program, assisting with after-school student leadership programs, and helping with participant recruitment, data collection and data entry.

Graduate students at VCU will also contribute by working directly with the schools to assist with data collection and to help teachers and school staff with implementing the program.

About VCU and VCU Medical Center

Virginia Commonwealth University is a major, urban public research university with national and international rankings in sponsored research. Located in downtown Richmond, VCU enrolls more than 31,000 students in 226 degree and certificate programs in the arts, sciences and humanities. Sixty-seven of the programs are unique in Virginia, many of them crossing the disciplines of VCU’s 13 schools and one college. MCV Hospitals and the health sciences schools of Virginia Commonwealth University comprise VCU Medical Center, one of the nation’s leading academic medical centers. For more, see www.vcu.edu.