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Few escape their school years without at least one episode of bullying. For some, it’s a part of school life, something you learn to live with. For others, it makes the school day something to be dreaded. In some cases, it is a torment so unbearable that the only way out is suicide.
On the afternoon of Friday, January 11, however, it was an enthusiastic group of over 400 kindergarten through fourth grade students, teachers, staff and parents who filled the gym at the Honey Brook Elementary Center for the annual anti-bullying assembly called “C.A.R.E.”.
C.A.R.E. is described a major initiative to “Create A Respectful Environment” within the school and community. Its goals are to reduce existing bullying problems, prevent the development of new bullying problems, and achieve better peer relations at school.
Dr. Jamie Whye, school principal, told the assembled students that they should be ‘bucket fillers’, filling their ‘buckets’ with helpful behavior - like holding a door open for someone. ‘Bucket tippers’, she explained, are people who make others feel bad.
The C.A.R.E. program is based on the work of Swedish psychologist Daniel Olweus who devoted his career to the study of bully/victim behaviors among school children and youth. According to Clemson University’s Institute on Family and Neighborhood Life, Olweus’s work has been responsible for a worldwide change in attitude toward bullying, from being seen as a natural part of school life to being recognized as a pressing social issue that must be taken seriously. One recent study reports that 17 percent, or one in five students, have been bullied “sometimes” or more often. Bullying can be verbal or physical, but it can also include psychological elements, such as threats, social exclusion or isolation and spreading false rumors.
Honey Brook Elementary Center Counselor Alison Lane is a big supporter of the C.A.R.E. program, which she helped to initiate during the 2006-2007 school year.
“There is always going to be conflict between people,” says Lane, “and it’s not always cut and dried. One of the things the C.A.R.E. program teaches is that there’s a difference between a conflict that’s between equals and a conflict where one person controls another person.”
Becky Escalona, a parent with two children at HBEC, says that the C.A.R.E. program “teaches children that their actions and words can be hurtful to others and how they should be better friends. It also teaches them what a bully really is.”
One way to define bullying, according to Lane, is “being mean on purpose.”
Students who are being bullied often exhibit warning signs. These may include torn, damaged, or missing pieces of clothing and unexplained cuts, bruises, and scratches from fighting. The child may also lose interest in doing school work, complain frequently of headaches, stomachaches, or other physical problems, have frequent bad dreams, or experience a loss of appetite.
In the C.A.R.E. program, if a student sees another student being bullied, they are encouraged to intervene and say “stop”. If it is happening to an individual child and no one else is around, the child is taught to stand up to the bully and say, “I don’t like how you’re treating me. It’s bullying. Stop.”. Finally, students are taught that there is no shame in telling a grown up at home or at school that they are being bullied.
Administrators emphasize that the C.A.R.E. program at Honey Brook Elementary Center is more than a 20-minute, once a year, feel good event.
“Yes, we have this assembly each winter and we have parent night once a year,” said Lane, “but we carry this message to all adults and in the classroom throughout the year.”
Ultimately, the goal is, like the research of Dr. Olweus, a change of school culture.
Escalona, who uses the principles of C.A.R.E. at home with her family, said, “I really feel that the C.A.R.E. program makes the students more aware of the impact of their actions on others.”
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