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Two Reading Teachers Reach Kids with Message of Empathy with New Program
Martin C. Kennedy
We have all heard comments like these:
- "Did you see what she wore to school today?"
- "Hey, you new here? You talk funny."
- "No, you can't sit here."
- "Hey fatso!"
Words hurt. Often, bullying behavior starts with name calling, teasing, and exclusion. It can lead to physical abuse. Just reading theses quotes, we remember our own childhood experiences. Some of us were teased and bullied. Perhaps we engaged in bullying ourselves.
We thought it was 'just part of growing up' and sometimes we fall into that mindset when we hear the emphasis on bullying prevention in today's schools. Perhaps we wonder why it should be a topic in schools. Here at Didax, when we first considered publishing materials on the subject, we asked ourselves these questions. We recounted our own memories of being bullied. "Hey, look at the funny little kid with the big head!", that was the taunt I faced as I walked past the 'big kids'. Another one of us was locked for several hours in a locker. It did not take much more discussion for us to move ahead with publishing our Bullying and Conflict Resolution books geared to Pre-K to 8th graders.
Here is what we learned:
- Approximately 15% of students are either bullied or bully
- Bullying peaks in the middle school years.
- School absenteeism is high among kids who are bullied.
- Depression, low self-esteem, stress, physical illness can result from being bullied and the effects can continue into adulthood.
- Over two thirds of students who perpetrated targeted school shootings reported being severely bullied.
We also know that bullying behavior contributes to an unsafe school setting and when children are unsafe, they cannot learn to their full potential. Another reality of school bullying is that courts are finding schools to be responsible for intervening with bullying and can be found guilty of negligence.
Wouldn't we rather hear these kinds of comments in our schools?
- "Hi, you look like you are new here. Welcome!"
- "Let's make room for Jai at our table."
- "Kerri, no, I will not help you push Brad into the mud."
We can teach children how to be respectful, inclusive and how to intervene when they see bullying taking place. We also know teaching children early about important anti-bullying strategies is key. Bullying can start in preschool and carry on into high school. Books such as the Dino-Might series are designed to help young children understand and cope with unpleasant behaviors.
Two local teachers from Reading, Peter DiSalvatore and Al Mosier, attended a bullying prevention training focusing on the work of Professor Daniel Olweus, the world's leading authority of bullying/victim issues. Peter, a Health/P.E. teacher and Al, a music teacher, felt the need to act on this newly found knowledge and created Jeff's Journey, a wonderful classic radio play about how a bully gets the tables turned on him and develops into a kinder child.
Al and Peter partnered with Didax, Inc, a North Shore educational publisher, to produce an audio CD with 12 dramatic episodes, a 120-page teacher activity book (which includes activities, role-playing scenarios, teaching suggestions, and a complete script of the play for student performance/reader's theater) and 12 posters geared to grades 3-8.
This child-friendly and engaging story takes us from a fairly tense situation in which Jeff emerges as a bully yet has fooled the principal into thinking he is a good kid. As reality dawns, Jeff's family must confront his behavior but then they move to a new state where Jeff is now the object of taunting because of his unique East coast accent. The teaching materials can provide the foundation for a school anti-bullying program help children learn to recognize bullying, know when to step in and to report it to the proper adults.
Research conducted by Olweus demonstrates profoundly reduced reported incidents of bullying after children receive training. An important outcome of Olweus's work is to point out that there are multiple victims in a bullying situation: the child being bullied, bystanders and the bully. We often find that the bully is, herself/himself, a victim of abuse or bullying. Above all else, action is required on the part of school personnel. Ignoring or passively condoning the behavior will simply cause the problems to accelerate.