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Column: Preventing bullying at Prairie

By HEIDI MEYER, District 518

WORTHINGTON — October is National Anti-Bullying Awareness month. At Prairie Elementary, we have several exciting plans in place to promote bully prevention and awareness throughout this month and in the months ahead.

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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:

Prairie’s rule guidelines include BE RESPECTFUL, BE RESPONSIBLE and BE SAFE. Along with school-wide expectations throughout the building, we speak 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 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.

Our school counselor, Laurie Knudson, and our school social worker, Angie Meyer, take a proactive approach to bully prevention within our school. Classroom units have been created that include building skills of empathy, kindness, and social skills including conflict resolution. The mission of their classroom guidance includes several books and activities that help students internalize a sense of community. Some titles include “Have You Filled a Bucket Today (kindness),” “The Brand New Kid (empathy),” “Howard B. Wigglebottom Learns about Bullies (bully prevention),” and “Spaghetti in a Hot Dog Bun (respecting and accepting differences).” Mrs. Knudson also uses some components of the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program when meeting with students. The Olweus Program is designed to improve peer relations and make schools safer, more positive places for students to learn and develop. Goals of the program include: reducing existing bullying problems among students, preventing the development of new bullying problems and achieving better peer relations at school.

On Oct. 14, we will once again host performances by CLIMB Theatre, an award-winning touring theater group. CLIMB’s focus for their shows this season is proactive bully prevention by building friendships through exploring appropriate social skills. Classes of kindergarteners through second grade will watch an interactive play called “The Great Tooth Exchange” about a student named Brodi who desperately wants to make and keep friends. Through music and movement, our students will learn how helping others and spreading kindness can make a difference. Our third- and fourth-graders will watch the play “Valentine’s Day.” An unlikely trio of friends learn a lesson about the rules of making and keeping friends, empathy, and the difference between friendship and popularity.

All month long in October, Prairie staff members will be wearing white bracelets that say “It’s cool to be kind … kindness starts with me!” as we promote Bully Prevention month. All year long, we continuously 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.