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Published November 19. 2009 05:00PM

With all the peer pressure facing students these days, it's refreshing to hear stories that build up rather than lambaste the school environment.

One positive story that surfaced this week shows that Pennsylvania's school-based bullying prevention programs appear to be working.

After only a few months, schools that implemented the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program showed that bullying decreased by 14 percent among elementary students and 25 percent among high school students. Also, according to the report released by the Highmark Foundation, 14 percent of middle school students said that they would try to help another student who was bullied.

More than 56,000 students and 2,400 teachers from 107 Pennsylvania schools participated in the study, according to Dr. Matthew Masiello, director of the Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention at Windber Research Institute and the lead researcher on behalf of the Highmark Foundation. The survey assessed changes in school climate, effectiveness of professional staff when responding to bullying incidents, and the degree of bullying behaviors among students.

More than 200 schools throughout the state were given the tools and resources to implement the bullying prevention through the Highmark Healthy High 5 HALT! and PA CARES programs.

Results of the study were discussed earlier this week at the International Bullying Prevention Association Conference in Pittsburgh, where more than 650 school personnel, policymakers, researchers, community leaders and parents came together to discuss the best ways to create safe learning and neighborhood environments free of bullying.

The second story that shows a school's ability to overcome and succeed was featured in a report on the NBC Nightly News' Making a Difference segment. It concerned the football team at Boys Town in Nebraska, a school for troubled youth.

This year, the school, which was founded some 90 years ago by Fr. Edward Flanagan, has an undefeated football team which is uniting the school like never before. For many players, this team represents the first true family they've ever known. The team has not only given players a true sense of belonging, but the winning attitude has pervaded through the whole student body.

A similar winning spirit has been generated throughout the Lehighton student body by the school's field hockey team, which is playing for a state championship this weekend.

Boys Town, meanwhile, is no longer looked down on as a school for troubled youth, but is now identified with words like overcomers and champions.

The way the team has come together this season amplifies the school's legendary motto: "He ain't heavy, he's my brother."

Now that's a winning slogan that the Boys Town students can carry into society and build on for the rest of their lives.

By Jim Zbick

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