By Patrick McCallister
For Hometown News
DELTONA - Nick Pizza is aiming to start a ChangeReaction at Heritage Middle School in January.
"Bullying has gone on pretty much from the beginning of time," Mr. Pizza said. "We can curb it; we can control it. My ultimate goal is to put it in more than one school."
Mr. Pizza spoke to the Volusia County School Board at its last regular meeting, Oct. 9, about efforts by community group Deltona Against Bullying to get ChangeReaction into Heritage Middle. ChangeReaction is a DeLand company offering bullying-reduction programs. One of the founders, Jill Jordan, has much experience with bullying.
"(A family member) was bullied into a suicide attempt," Ms. Jordan said. "I was the lucky one. My (family member) was saved and I was able to help rehabilitate her to her own power."
Additionally, Ms. Jordan said some of her school days were darkened by bullying.
"I certainly was bullied," she said. "My mother came from a poor family, single parent."
Which meant a lot of financial insecurity, moving and starting at new schools. Ms. Jordan resolved her bully problem the way many others do - wrongly.
"I had to join up with the tough ones and be part of the bullying," she said. "I'm not proud of that."
Mr. Pizza heads up Pizza Family Ministries, which does a number of youth programs in Deltona. The ministry helped organize a National Kids Day Celebration at Dewey O. Boster Sports Complex. The theme of the Sept. 15 event was "Bully Proofing Deltona." Thousands attended, and Deltona Against Bullying grew out of the event.
"I was bullied," Mr. Pizza said. "I don't know that I was bullied like these kids are bullied. I was - no doubt about it."
Ms. Jordan attended a Deltona Against Bullying meeting, and the group liked ChangeReaction's offerings. It approached Tom Russell, the school district's area superintendent, about getting ChangeReaction's program into Deltona schools.
"What I told them is the district does not have money for any program," Mr. Russell said.
Nevertheless, he liked what he saw and gave three schools a chance to have a ChangeReaction pilot program with sixth graders if Deltona Against Bullying could come up with the money for it. Those schools were Deltona, Galaxy and Heritage middles.
"I ask all three middle schools over there and (Principal Carolyn Carbonell) was the fastest one to the phone," Mr. Russell said.
Ms. Carbonell said ChangeReaction seemed to offer something the school was looking for.
"We started to make a conscious effort last year to concentrate on any anti-bullying programs," she said. "This year, we wanted to step it up. I heard there was a possible opportunity to be a part of it; I jumped at it. I said, 'We can be the pilot school.'"
Ms. Jordan said the Heritage program will be training sessions with teachers and staff, along with students. The ChangeReaction program focuses on experiential teaching that helps students understand respectful interactions, and how to respond more thoughtfully to bullying situations, rather than reacting blindly. After initial training, ChangeReaction can continue reinforcement training for the rest of the school year.
There's that rub.
While specifics have yet to be worked out, Ms. Jordan said the program could run about $3,000 for training about 100 students. Follow up sessions would be less.
Mr. Pizza said Deltona Against Bullying will raise that money.
"We haven't put on boxing clubs for that yet," he said. "Where we'll go is businesses. I'm a pretty good salesperson. We'll be able to sell this to get businesses and individuals to want to contribute to this."
Deltona Against Bullying hopes to raise money not only to have ChangeReaction at Heritage Middle later this school year, but also to eventually get enough funding to get it into all 17 of Volusia's public and charter schools that have middle-school grades.
Mr. Russell, too, hopes the pilot study at Heritage Middle proves successful at reducing bullying and things spread.
"If we can show hard data that this made a difference, we could use it throughout the district," he said.
And, yes, Mr. Russell has experience with bullying. The 53-year-old said he's still bothered by memories of standing back and staying silent when he witnessed a fellow fifth grader being bullied.
"I was probably both (bully and victim)," he said. "We all look back at things we said and did that we're not proud of."
According to Nancy Wait, director of community information at the Volusia Schools, there were 243 referrals written for bullying during the 2011-2012 school year. Eight were considered significant enough offenses for district review. Elementary schools had the bulk of the referrals: 135. Middle schools had 57, and high schools 26. Others were at combination schools and alternative education sites.
Deltona Against Bullying is at deltonaagainstbullying.com.