By Patrick McCallister
For Hometown News
DELAND - Sean Richter is on a mission to reduce bullying at schools, and folks can help him by eating some pancakes.
Local Elks have joined Mr. Richter's cause and will host a pancake breakfast on Saturday, Sept. 29. Exalted Leader Ray "Chip" Haverty said the DeLand Lodge, #1463, aims to reduce bullying for all of Florida's students in coming years.
"I really do feel it'll go statewide," he said. "I hope to see it go (statewide). We're going to do everything we can in DeLand to get it to that point."
Mr. Richter is a school counselor at Southwestern Middle School. He hopes to attend anti-bullying training at Clemson University's Institute on Family and Neighborhood Life's Olweus Bullying Prevention Program. Once he does, he'll be able to instruct up to 36 other school employees among two schools a year in the Olweus program.
But it'll cost him $4,200 to go, not counting travel and lodging expenses.
The DeLand Elks, 150 S. Clara Ave., are hosting the pancake breakfast with the goal of raising $5,000 to send him. The service organization plans to make the breakfast an annual event to send other Volusia County Schools' employees. It's also in talks with the Florida State Elks Association to make sending school workers throughout the state to the training a part of its mission.
"There is exposure in the media about bullying," Mr. Haverty said. "But this is stuff going on in your neighborhood. We can't turn a blind eye to it anymore."
Mr. Richter spearheaded anti-bullying efforts at Deltona High School with another program, Challenge Day. The Deltona High program is now defunct. However, the Florida School Counselor Association awarded his efforts by recognizing him as the 2009 High School Counselor of the Year. Mr. Richter is in his third school year at Southwestern.
He said the district has anti-bullying efforts and strict policies against it. However, Mr. Richter said the Olweus program would add a dimension now absent - an organized way for school administrators to help students communicate about problems with bullying. He said anonymous student surveys taken at the start and end of school years have shown that Olweus strategies can reduce bullying problems by up to 50 percent. He said today's bullying is much worse than what previous generations experienced.
"When we grew up, we didn't have that amazing thing called a cell phone," Mr. Richter said. "We could escape. Nowadays, these kids get it 24/7. They're getting it on the Internet. They're getting it on social media. They're on (social-media sites) we don't know about."
According to Nancy Wait, director of community information at 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.
Mr. Richter said students at the middle and high school levels are typically less willing to report bullying.
"This generation - they don't feel they can come and say anything," he said. "It's dishonorable. They say, 'I should be able to handle it myself.' "
The school district, he said, is very supportive of his efforts to get training at Olweus. However, Mr. Richter said that it can't pay for it.