Inside Our Schools: Working against bullying

October is National Bullying Prevention Month, and it is a great time to remind our children that kindness matters. Working in a middle school, that message sometimes gets lost.  As much as we try to drive the message home that our students need to be kind to each other, there is something in the early adolescent brain that says, "not today.” Maybe it is the surge of hormones, maybe it is social pressure, or maybe it is that they don't always like themselves at this age. It certainly doesn't help that they are hard-wired to notice the differences that are occurring in each other at this time. Call it biology. The good news is that in spite of their bad reputation, the overwhelming majority of our middle school students are really nice, polite, kind, great kids. The very slim fraction of kids who are not, however, seem like an army if you are their target.

At Shelton Intermediate School, we are working hard to make sure that students strive to be their best selves this year with our "Be the Nice Kid" theme. This theme is rooted in a national movement started by Golf Pro and motivational speaker Bryan Skavnak. The heart of this movement is that it matters how you treat people. We kicked off the year with a "Be the Nice Kid" poster contest which inspired dozens of great posters, which we will display around the school.

Our school-wide winner, Maja Shallow, said, "When you are nice to someone, then they are nice to someone else, and then they are nice to others. It's a kindness chain reaction!”

SIS will continue this theme throughout the year with events, activities, and contests, such as participating in National Stomp Out Bullying Day, statistics and reminders on WSIS morning announcements, and team activities that promote unity and teamwork amongst the students. In addition to our monthly Student of the Month and quarterly academic and attendance awards, we will award "Character Counts" awards to those students who display kindness and good citizenship.

Our Positive Behavioral Support (PBS) program (which is in practice in all Shelton Schools) focuses on addressing and rewarding good behavior rather than calling out the negatives.  Raffle tickets for prizes and special privileges are given to students who demonstrate the Viking Values of Respect, Responsibility, and Safety. We have several clubs that promote these values as well, such as our award-winning Best Buddies chapter, Teen CORPS (a community service club), a new GSA, and our Kindness Club.  We only get two years with our students, and we want to make sure that they are as positive and productive as possible.

There are great programs in every Shelton school which encourage the students to be the best version of themselves. For example, Sunnyside School just started its third year with the Look For The Good Campaign. This campaign runs over two weeks and is designed around the core belief that gratitude changes mindsets, reduces violence, and improves students' outlook. Not only does this make students more constructive and creative, but it also builds life resources which make them more resilient. Researchers report that grateful kids are happier, more satisfied with their lives, more generous, more cooperative, and more likely to use their strengths to better their communities.

Mohegan Elementary School Pre K-4 students are taught about being empathetic and praise acts of kindness as an effort to teach anti bullying to kids. Mohegan also participates in the "Look for the Good Gratitude Campaign.” Mohegan students increased their self-confidence, acceptance of others, empathy and resiliency. Students and staff posted daily post it notes in the main lobby on the gratitude wall. These messages centered on being thankful for family, peers, life resources, and more. Daily inspirational videos were created by students in the Media Center Green Room and publicized in all classrooms during morning announcements. As a result, the school community found that there was an increase in students on making kind comments rather than treating others unkindly beyond the campaign.

"Common Sense Media" is a digital citizenship program that is infused into the Media Center curricula. This is implemented during the month of October/November and targets online bullying and safe internet use for all students. Activities and lessons center around identifying fake news, how to seek help or report internet problems that young students may encounter, and how to avoid making vulnerable choices on the internet.

Positive Behavioral Intervention Supports (PBIS) is a school wide initiative that focuses on positive behaviors and school culture. Every student and staff member participates in common language and core beliefs regarding responsible, respectful and safe school behaviors. Students are "clipped" up on the classroom behavior charts for good behaviors and "clipped down" for poor behavioral choices. Students can fluidly clip up or down throughout the day.  When students end their day on a positive color they may gain a reward. The purpose and focus is to identify positive behaviors and highlight them so that others learn from them. Students leaders participate in planning the PBIS assemblies and "red carpet" students are announced including what they did for the monthly honor to support kindness.

In addition, teachers have a variety of picture books to read aloud to students that may target a specific bullying behavior. They utilize these to role play and brainstorm with groups of students how to respond and what they can do to help or stop the behavior if they see it happening.

For the older students, The Shelton High School staff encourages the students to uphold the Gael Guidelines every day, and on October 4, SHS held an advisor/advisee period where 9th and 12th graders completed a PowerPoint on bullying and cyberbullying. This information is shared with students every year.  Kathy Riddle, K-12 Guidance Curriculum Leader noted, "As part of our safe school climate plan it is imperative that our student population reviews the definition of bullying/cyberbullying and ways to prevent it."

All schools have behavior issues and no schools are "bully free", but parents can help schools confront mean behavior.  Listen to your children when they talk about social situations for hints that things may not be going well. They may not know what to do if they are being mistreated or see others being bullied. Teach them to stand up for themselves and others.  Encourage them to speak up and let a trusted adult know when someone is being mean or if someone is being hurt. If they are too scared to do that, contact the building administrator or counselor and explain what you know. Teachers often do not see mean behavior because it is done away from adult eyes and ears. Tips from students and parents-even anonymous ones--help us to know who and where to watch.

Finally, and most importantly, encourage your child to be the nice kid. Avoid asking if they are bullying or being a bully. Instead, ask them if they have been mean to others. Most people will not identify themselves as being a bully, but will acknowledge their own mean behavior. Let your kids know that you will not tolerate mean behavior toward anyone. Model kindness in your home and your children will practice kindness in the world.

We at Shelton Schools are looking forward to a great year.