WORTHINGTON — At the beginning of every school year, we take the time at Prairie Elementary to promote kindness and a sense of community within our school. Students, along with their classroom teachers, talk about their hopes and dreams for the school year — and how treating one another with respect is a part of reaching their goals. One particular focus that we address early in the year is bully prevention. October is National Anti-Bullying Awareness month. At Prairie, we continue to have several plans in place to promote bully prevention and awareness throughout next month and in the year ahead. 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 talking to our children about bullying, it is important to keep in mind that bullying is a repeated action — not a one-time incident. We teach that there is a difference between bullying and having conflict with another person. Author Trudy Ludwig uses these examples to help students understand the difference:

  • When someone says or does something unintentionally hurtful and they do it once, that's RUDE or MEAN.

  • When someone says or does something intentionally hurtful and they keep doing it — even when you tell them to stop or show them that you're upset— that's BULLYING.

When bullying occurs, we want our students to be empowered to use bully-prevention techniques. Children gain confidence when they learn that non-violent bully prevention techniques work, particularly when they are used in a setting where there is adult encouragement and support.

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. 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 teachers 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. 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 children are getting devices (phones, iPads, etc.) earlier than ever, so it is necessary to mention cyberbullying. It is important to talk with children about your expectations and safety, and to take an active role in monitoring what your children are doing online. We want children to know what to do in the event that they experience cyberbullying. Cyberbullying is the use of technology to be relationally aggressive. There are three steps we encourage when a student is experiencing cyberbullying. The first thing to do is STOP: Log off the site where the bullying is happening. Next, BLOCK: Block emails or messages, and don’t respond to them. Then, RECORD: Save the message or email and show an adult. And finally, TALK IT OUT: Tell someone you trust.

We always 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 Prairie’s classroom guidance is to teach students these habits. Our social worker and counselors include several books and activities that help students internalize a sense of community and skill-building. Some titles include "Enemy Pie" (kindness/friendship), "Odd Velvet" (empathy), "Bully Beans" (bully prevention) and "The Juice Box Bully" (empowering kids to stand up for others). These lessons are implemented and revisited throughout the school year.

On Sept. 16, we are hosting a Parent Event at Prairie Elementary. Parents from across the district are invited to attend. At our event, we are fortunate to feature author Julia Cook as our guest speaker. Ms. Cook is an award-winning author and parenting expert. She has presented in thousands of schools across the country and abroad, and regularly speaks at national education and counseling conferences. She has published nearly 100 children’s books on a wide range of characters and social development topics, including bullying, anger control and friendship skills. Ms. Cook will be speaking to parents about raising children to be successful in the 21st century. Along with our featured author, school district officials will also be speaking about ALICE, the school district’s crisis response model. Please join us in the Prairie Elementary Gyms on Monday, Sept. 16. Doors open at 6 p.m., and the event begins at 6:15. Child care will be provided. Prairie students will have the opportunity to hear a presentation by Ms. Cook during their school day on Monday.

Heidi Meyer is Prairie Elementary's principal.