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Program Profile: WITS Primary Program

Evidence Rating: Promising - More than one study Promising - More than one study

Date: This profile was posted on April 27, 2015

Program Summary

A community-based, schoolwide intervention aimed at children in grades 1 through 3 that targets socially competent behaviors and risks for peer victimization. The program was rated Promising. The program was shown to have significant positive effects on physical and relational victimization and social competence, but not on social responsibility or physical aggression.

Program Description

Program Goals/Target Population
The WITS Primary Program is a community-based, schoolwide peer-victimization-prevention program aimed at children in grades 1 through 3 that targets socially competent behaviors and risks for peer victimization. The goal of the program is to create responsive communities that provide children with safe and positive choices when faced with peer conflicts and reliable adult assistance to ultimately prevent peer victimization.

WITS provides a common language to be used in schools, communities, and homes. The WITS acronym, which stands for Walk away, Ignore it, Talk it out, and Seek help, provides children, school staff, and parents with simple, developmentally appropriate conflict-resolution strategies for handling conflicts with peers.

Program Components
There are several components of the WITS Primary Program. The teacher lesson plan provides early childhood literature and activities to reinforce WITS messages in the classroom. The lessons are easily integrated into elementary schools’ existing literacy, language arts, social studies, and health curricula. Teachers are asked to use one age-appropriate picture book from the WITS list per month, while following the lesson plans based on the WITS books provided in the program guide. The lesson plans are available online (see Implementation Information for a link to the website). In addition, by completing the 90-minute, online-training module, teachers and staff can become Accredited WITS Programs Teachers.

The booklist offers popular picture books that are used in the program, and information about literacy techniques used in the stories, vocabulary building, songs, and other activities. Aboriginal and French book lists are also available.

Schools are encouraged to engage community leaders (such as police, firefighters, paramedics, Aboriginal elders, or university athletes) in implementing the WITS Primary Program. After completing the 60-minute, online-training module, community leaders conduct a “swearing-in” ceremony to initiate the program each year. Children are “deputized” as special constables and they promise to keep their classmates and school safe by using their WITS to deal with teasing, bullying, and helping other students to use their WITS. Children are provided with WITS activity books, bookmarks, and other materials meant to act as reminders of the WITS message at school and at home. Community leaders visit classrooms throughout the school year and advocate “using your WITS.”

Key Personnel
The program includes teachers, administrators, community leaders, student athletes, and parents.

Program Theory
The program is informed by a developmental science emphasis on supporting protective factors in children, and in their social ecologies, to prevent peer victimization and bullying (Bronfenbrenner 1989). New materials are also available for children in grades 4 to 6.  

Evaluation Outcomes

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Study 1
Physical Victimization
Leadbeater and Sukhawathanakul (2011) found that students in the WITS schools experienced significantly faster declines in physical victimization compared with students in the comparison schools.

Relational Victimization
The students in the WITS schools also experienced significantly faster declines in relational victimization compared with students in the comparison schools.

Social Responsibility
No difference was found between students in the WITS schools and those in the comparison schools on social responsibility.

Study 2
Physical Victimization
Hoglund and colleagues (2012) found that WITS significantly reduced physical victimization across elementary school for the treatment group, compared with stable and increasing levels of physical victimization in the comparison group.

Relational Victimization
WITS significantly reduced relational victimization across elementary school for the treatment group, compared with the stable and increasing levels in the comparison group.

Social Competence
The treatment group maintained levels of social competence while the comparison group showed a decrease throughout elementary school, indicating a significant program effect.
Physical Aggression
No difference was found between the treatment and comparison groups on physical aggression.
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Evaluation Methodology

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Study 1
Leadbeater and Sukhawathanakul (2011) implemented a quasi-experimental design method in which six treatment schools implemented the WITS program and five comparison schools did not. All of the schools were located in separate but adjacent school districts in a metropolitan area in western Canada. Participants included 830 1st- to 3rd-grade students from 67 classrooms. A total of 422 treatment students participated in the WITS program, and 418 students from the comparison schools were involved in the evaluation. The students ranged in age from 5 to 10 years old. The students in the treatment and comparison schools were similar in terms of demographics.

All treatment schools implemented the WITS program for at least 1 year. None of the comparison schools implemented the program. Books for the treatment schools were selected from the WITS program book list. Comparison schools selected their own books. All treatment schools received 40-minute sessions for staff members to review WITS training. WITS program police liaisons received 1- to 2-hour training sessions to prepare them for implementing the program initiation ceremony and to do 4- to 6-week follow-up classroom visits. These community leaders also gave the children “take home gifts” to bring the message home. Parents in the schools that implemented WITS received information pamphlets each year of the study and were given the chance to meet a member of the research team at an open house at the beginning of the 1st school year of the study.

Children with parental consent individually rated their experiences with physical and relational victimization using the Social Experience Questionnaire. Teachers completed the British Columbia Ministry of Education’s Performance Standards: Social Responsibility Framework to rate children’s social responsibility levels.

Hierarchical linear modeling (HLM) analyses were used to examine the outcomes, and included appropriate statistical adjustments for differences between the groups. Baseline data was collected in the fall of students’ 1st-grade year; and the second follow-up was conducted during the spring of their 2nd-grade year, 18 months after baseline.

Study 2
Hoglund and colleagues (2012) conducted a quasi-experimental design study, in which they followed a cohort of 432 children from 17 public elementary schools in a city in western Canada over 6 years. The sample was selected when the children were in 1st grade. Schools were recruited after attending a training session led by the developer of the WITS Primary Program.

The treatment group included 11 schools that agreed to implement the program. The comparison group included 6 schools in the same district that did not attend the in-service training and did not implement the WITS Primary Program during the course of the study. Almost half (49.3 percent) of the students from WITS schools were female, and 26.6 percent were an ethnic minority (including Southeast and East Asian, South Asian, Aboriginal, or other). Almost half (47.2 percent) of the students in the comparison schools were female and 22.5 percent were an ethnic minority. The WITS and comparison schools did not differ in terms of gender, family risk (indicated by single-parent household, low parental education, low income, and high household moves), or school-level poverty at baseline.

Peer victimization was measured using children’s self-reports on the Social Experiences Questionnaire. Social–emotional adjustment was assessed from teacher reports on the Early School Behavior Rating Scale and the Behavior Assessment Scale for Children. The authors used HLM analyses to determine program effects over 6 years. 
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Almost all of the WITS Program resources, including a full resource guide, individual lesson plans, online training, videos, posters, and pamphlets are available at Books on the WITS booklist are available for sale through connections with on the program website. Reminder gifts, posters, and other resources can be brought at cost through the program website.
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Implementation Information

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Program information can be found at The program is available in English and French. 

Teachers and staff can complete the 90-minute, online-training module and become Accredited WITS Programs Teachers. There is also a 60-minute, online-training module for community leaders.
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Evidence-Base (Studies Reviewed)

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These sources were used in the development of the program profile:

Study 1
Hoglund, Wendy, Naheed Hosan, and Bonnie Leadbeater. 2012. “Using Your WITS: A 6-Year Follow-Up of a Peer Victimization Prevention Program.” School Psychology Review 41(2):193–214.

Study 2
Leadbeater, Bonnie, and Paweena Sukhawathanakul. 2011. “Multicomponent Programs for Reducing Peer Victimization in Early Elementary School: A Longitudinal Evaluation of the WITS Primary Program.” Journal of Community Psychology 39(5):606–20.
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Additional References

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These sources were used in the development of the program profile:

Bronfenbrenner, U. 1989. “Ecological Systems Theory.” Annals of Child Development 6:187–249.

Leadbeater, B. J., W. L. Hoglund, and T. Woods. 2003. “Changing Contexts? The Effects of a Primary Prevention Program on Classroom Levels of Peer Relational and Physical Victimization.” Journal of Community Psychology 31(4): 397–418. 

Selman, R. L. 2003. The Promotion of Social Awareness: Powerful Lessons from the Partnership of Developmental Theory and Classroom Practice. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.
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Related Practices

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Following are practices that are related to this program:

School-Based Bullying Prevention Programs
Aim to reduce bullying and victimization (being bullied) in school settings. Some interventions aim to increase positive involvement in the bullying situation from bystanders or witnesses. The practice is rated Effective for reducing bullying, bullying victimization, and for increasing the likelihood of a bystander to intervene. The practice is rated No Effects for increasing bystander empathy for victims of bullying.

Evidence Ratings for Outcomes:
Effective - More than one Meta-Analysis Juvenile Problem & At-Risk Behaviors - Bullying
Effective - More than one Meta-Analysis Victimization - Being Bullied
Effective - One Meta-Analysis Victimization - Bystander Intervention
No Effects - One Meta-Analysis Mental Health & Behavioral Health - Empathy for the Victim

School-Based Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) Programs
Designed to foster the development of five interrelated sets of cognitive, affective, and behavioral competencies, in order to provide a foundation for better adjustment and academic performance in students, which can result in more positive social behaviors, fewer conduct problems, and less emotional distress. The practice was rated Effective in reducing students’ conduct problems and emotional stress.

Evidence Ratings for Outcomes:
Effective - One Meta-Analysis Juvenile Problem & At-Risk Behaviors - Multiple juvenile problem/at-risk behaviors
Effective - One Meta-Analysis Mental Health & Behavioral Health - Internalizing behavior
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Program Snapshot

Age: 5 - 10

Gender: Both

Race/Ethnicity: Black, American Indians/Alaska Native, Asian/Pacific Islander, Hispanic, White, Other

Geography: Rural, Suburban, Urban, Tribal

Setting (Delivery): School

Program Type: Classroom Curricula, Conflict Resolution/Interpersonal Skills, School/Classroom Environment, Bullying Prevention/Intervention, Violence Prevention

Current Program Status: Active

Listed by Other Directories: Model Programs Guide

Bonnie Leadbeater
Psychology Professor WITS Programs Principal Investigator
University of Victoria, Department of Psychology
PO Box 1700, STN CSC
Victoria V8P 5C2
Phone: 250-721-7523
Fax: 250-721-8929