In Partnership with 74

LAUSD helps create model anti-bullying campaign for Japan

Mike Szymanski | January 8, 2016

Your donation will help us produce journalism like this. Please give today.


Holly Priebe-Diaz (right) with Japanese educators. Photo by Ellen Morgan

After a rash of suicides by local teenagers’ hanging themselves, jumping off rooftops and throwing themselves in front of subways, the mayor of Nagoya, Japan turned to LA Unified for help, and what he got is an anti-bullying campaign that is now a model for schools in Japan.

Holly Priebe-Diaz, who helped put together the LAUSD anti-bullying program, travelled to Nagoya, Japan’s third-largest city, to offer counselors, teachers, parents, students and community leaders the best practices locally. She has been an intervention coordinator for 15 years.

“A lot of our issues are the same; there is physical and verbal abuse, social isolation and cyber-bullying,” said Priebe-Diaz. “We helped the school system recognize that bullying is a problem and that they need more mental health than they’ve had in the past.”

The mayor of Nagoya, Takashi Kawamura, was so distressed about the student suicides he said he thought about taking his own life.

But, after learning about the LA Unified program to address bullying, he contacted the district. Three years ago, he and his local school officials met here with LA Unified staff from School Operations, Human Relations, Diversity and Equity and Student Health and Human Services. They recommended that their visitors hire and train 55 additional counselors for the nearly 175,000 elementary and middle school students.

“This is the first type of program in their country, and the mayor gets the accolades for taking the first innovative steps,” said Ellen Morgan, a district spokeswoman, who paid her own way to accompany Priebe-Diaz to Nagoya in October. Morgan is a third-generation Japanese-American, who said she understood the cultural seriousness about studying. “From my memories of hearing from family members in Japan, it’s about academics, getting to the right universities, and getting to the right type of high school that all starts with tests you take in junior high,” she said.

“They have to dial it down,” she added. “There’s a lot of social pressure to excel academically.”

Priebe-Diaz said, “We see that even here, but there are also issues of being socially awkward, not knowing how to bond, coping skills, problem solving and other things that we teach in our classrooms.”

Other school districts as near as Burbank and as far away as South Korea have asked for materials and advice about the LAUSD anti-bullying program and have implemented parts of it in their own programs.

“We went there to share our best practices, and show that it’s OK to ask for help and say parents are wrong, teachers are wrong and that asking for help is not a weakness,” Priebe-Diaz said. “We showed that students need to be involved in their own safety and build connectedness to their school and to each other.”

Read Next