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Column: Prairie working to prevent bullying

District 518

WORTHINGTON -- Bullying is defined as unwanted, aggressive behavior toward others that involves a power imbalance, either real or perceived. A person is being bullied when he or she is exposed, repeatedly and over time, to these negative actions.

When bullying occurs, we want our students at Prairie Elementary to be empowered to use bully prevention techniques. Children gain confidence when they learn that nonviolent bully prevention techniques work, particularly when they are used in a setting where there is adult encouragement and support. At Prairie Elementary, we promote bullying prevention in several ways:

Our teaching and support staff have been trained in the Responsive Classroom approach to teaching. This overall philosophy encompasses the belief that student achievement happens best within a positive social context. Responsive Classroom techniques set the classroom climate and create guidelines for classroom management. RC is a program that builds community in classrooms by emphasizing the students' hopes and dreams and building a foundation for rules, motivation and discipline. The students learn to care about each other by practicing CARES; Cooperation, Assertion, Responsibility, Empathy and Self-Control. The CARES Model encourages students to begin developing key social skills necessary to be socially and academically successful. Through the community building efforts that begin on the first day of school in every classroom, children feel a sense of belonging that helps to eliminate bullying.

At our fall Rules Review, school expectations were addressed by Prairie's administrative team in grade-level specific terms. Prairie's rule guidelines include BE RESPECTFUL, BE RESPONSIBLE and BE SAFE. Along with school-wide expectations throughout the building, we spoke to students about the importance of being assertive, should bullying take place. We also want our students to know that bullying should not be confused with conflict. Conflict is a fight/disagreement between two or more people; it is not repetitive, patterned behavior. There are three steps we want kids to follow when bullying occurs. 1.) Kids should feel empowered to walk away from their bully; often removing the bully's target will take away the bully's power. 2.) Kids should use their words to let the bully know how they feel. "Please stop!" or "I don't like how it feels when you treat me this way." 3.) Kids should never hesitate to get help from an adult when dealing with situations where they feel uncomfortable or unsafe.

Our school counselor, Laurie Knudson, has helped lead our anti-bullying mission by creating classroom units to teach students about what they can do about bullies. She has visited many classrooms already this school year to proactively spread the message of "being a bucket filler." Using the book Have You Filled a Bucket Today? by Carol McCloud, students learn that everyone has an invisible bucket that is filled through the kindness of others.

A "Bully Box" will soon be placed in the third-/fourth-grade wing of our building. Students will be encouraged to write up their concerns or specific incidents of bullying and submit them to the box. The box will be checked daily by support staff. Staff will then meet with the student to help problem solve. This "Bully Box" will give our less assertive students another way to find their voice and will provide school staff with the information we need to get involved in the solution.

On Oct. 8, we hosted performances by CLIMB Theatre, an award-winning touring theater group. In bullying situations, there are almost always three types of people: the perpetrator, the target, and the bystanders. CLIMB's focus for their shows is bystander empowerment. Classes of kindergarteners through second grade watched an interactive play called "Bugs" about a boy named Bugsy and his new friend Katie. Bugsy tries to teach Katie how to stand up for herself when a bully named Kachoya starts to create trouble. In the process, Bugsy finds out that by standing by and doing nothing, he was actually helping Kachoya to be mean. Our third- and fourth- graders watched the powerful play "Bystander." Vandy, the new kid in the neighborhood, has been befriended by Wheels, a notorious bully. Gusty, Wheel's main target, has also become friends with Vandy. Vandy is caught in a rough spot and has to make the decision: should he stand up to Wheels and run the risk of being targeted, or should he stay quiet? The plays were well received by students and staff.

October is National Anti-Bullying Awareness month. All month long, our Prairie staff members have worn blue Bully Prevention Awareness bracelets. On Friday, Oct. 5, the entire school was invited to wear the color blue in order to unify our mission against bullying. It was empowering to see a sea of blue throughout the building. Here at Prairie, now and in the months ahead, we will continue to promote programs that teach bully prevention and create important dialogue to give children the confidence to stand up to bullies and stand up for each other.

Heidi Meyer is assistant principal at Prairie Elementary.