Getting beyond bullying
Twenty second-grade students gather at the feet of Glenshire Elementary School’s counselor, Marty Reedy.
On Reedy’s hand sits Slow Down Snail, a little puppet that makes faces during the classroom session devoted to learning feelings and treating others properly.
Slow Down Snail makes a happy face.
“Now turn to the person next to you and make a happy face,” Reedy says.
Slow Down Snail makes a surprised face.
“What is the difference between a good surprise and a bad surprise?” Reedy asks.
“A snake in your bath tub!” says Jaden Hippler.
“If you opened your closet and a million dollars fell out,” counters Noah Cavanaugh.
The game continues. Angry … sad … scared.
By participating in this activity, Reedy said, young children are better equipped to assess emotions and respond properly, thus making it easier for them to avoid and resolve confrontations.
This week marks National Bullying Prevention Awareness Week, as sponsored by the Parent Advocacy Coalition for Educational Rights (PACER), the National Coalition for Parent Involvement in Education, the National Education Association and the National Parent Teacher Association.
Remedying bullying is not nearly as important as preventing it, Reedy said, and that is exactly the reason that she and other elementary school counselors in the Tahoe Truckee Unified School District have adopted comprehensive prevention programs on their campuses.
Prevention is important, teachers say, as a way to foster healthy relationships, self-esteem, and appropriate non-violent intervention.
Alder Creek Middle School has established three peer groups devoted to suppressing bullying, peer counseling and building tolerance.
“We have a pretty good climate here,” said counselor Rachel Falk. “It’s a lot better than many years ago, and the kids all know about those groups. And if none of those things work they come and chat with me.”
Safe School Ambassadors, the bullying prevention program used at Alder Creek, is used nationwide in middle schools and high schools.
It teaches students how to speak out in non-aggressive ways when they witness unacceptable behavior.
“Ninety-five percent of students are neither bullied nor bullies, they’re bystanders,” Falk said. “Bystanders can be the key. They are trained on how to distract. If they see someone being bullied, they could say something like ‘Hey did you get that math problem? Could you come over here and help me?'”
Students at the elementary schools are also taught early that telling a teacher or an adult about inappropriate behavior is a correct and praiseworthy reaction.
“I saw somebody push down a kid,” said second grader Annie Guerra. “I just looked the other way, but next time, I will tell.”
Ask an adult woman about the worst years of her adolescent life and it’s a likely bet that her answer will be junior high.
Teachers and parents have yet to pin down why, but the majority are keenly aware that the “tween” years are a time of all-out relationship war, and that for some reason boys are able to stay on the perimeter.
“It starts as early as second and third grade, and I’m shocked,” said Marty Reedy, a counselor at Glenshire Elementary School. “Girls bully through relationships ” relational aggression ” I’ll only be your friend if …’ They won’t let you be in the group. They roll their eyes.
“The problem is that it’s under the radar. You can hear boys yelling, you can see shoving. You don’t always see this.”
Boys, counselors say, seem to have more resilience and seem to need less confirmation from others that they are right in their thinking. If adolescent boys have beef to hash out, they take it to the tetherball court or the soccer field.
Girls go straight for the jugular.
Resolving and dealing with the chasm in gender relations is an issue that parents and educators have been dealing with since the dawn of time, Reedy said, and plenty of research has been done, and programming has been developed, to help staff and students cope.
Where more focus might be needed, Reedy said, is on the few wayward students who fail to integrate.
“Columbine and the other school shootings, with the exception of the Amish school shooting, had to do with kids who were disconnected,” Reedy said. “They had been excluded and they wanted to act out.”
More can always be done, Reedy said, to make sure that those children always feel included and that they know that there are adults in their lives who truly care about them.
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