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Brentwood elementary students know 'bullying isn't nice, isn't cool'

| Thursday, Dec. 2, 2010

Ceci Foley traced her hand onto a piece of paper, wrote a special note to her classmates, added a splash of color and placed her work on the doorway of her first-grade classroom at Moore Elementary School in Brentwood.

Each of her classmates did the same.

They reminded one another to "try to be nice" and to "be respectful" and -- after adding caution tape and a warning sign -- created a room where no one was allowed to be mean to one another and everyone had to try and get along. Bullies were not invited.

"It's a bully-free zone," Ceci said. "We just don't want any bullies in there."

Across the hallway, students in Rebecca Wilson's third-grade class stood behind their desks -- nearly everyone decked out in blue-and-gold Spartan attire -- and chanted an anti-bullying message to the tune of the Army march.

"We don't like bullying in our school. It isn't nice and it isn't cool," their voices echoed across the room.

The Spartan mascot walked the hallways of the school to rally the students. Even "Buffo the World's Strongest Clown" got in on the action, reminding students through his comedy routine to accept one another no matter their differences.

Getting students to rally against bullying was easy. A wide array of activities were planned last week at elementary schools in the district to kick off the implementation of the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program.

"We're hoping not only to reduce the number of bullying incidents, but to also improve the climate in the classroom," said Moore Elementary art teacher Barbara Girone.

The program uses classroom meetings amongst peers, schoolwide support and community outreach to reduce bullying.

As a social worker for the elementary schools in the Brentwood Borough School District for the last seven years, Kelly Donaldson has been the go-to person for bullying problems.

Most were actually "peer conflicts" -- or disagreements between students at the same status level, Donaldson said. But problems still existed, so several years ago, Donaldson and other administrators hosted class meetings where students sat in a circle during class to talk about their concerns.

Students felt comfortable talking about their social problems with their teachers and school administrators.

"They wanted us to be a part of that. They wanted the teachers and myself to be a part of what's going on behind the scenes," Donaldson said.

And it was their response that let Donaldson know it was time to act. Although the same program now being implemented had been introduced in Brentwood in 2000, it didn't take.

"Somewhere along the lines, it just didn't go as planned," Donaldson said.

In October a survey was randomly distributed to as many as 30 students per grade in grades third through 12 to determine where Brentwood stands with bullying.

Committees of teachers, nurses and principals then went through two days of training in the program so they could relay what they learned to all 100 teachers in the district.

The elementary students were introduced to the program last week. A kickoff still has to be planned for the middle/high school.

Now that the students have been introduced to the basic premise, it's time to delve in. And that will happen this week, when each classroom begins discussing issues at hand.

Posters hung throughout the district will serve as a constant reminder of the respectful behavior students should have toward each other. To make it more personal, images of students from Brentwood will be displayed on each poster.

Next, it will be time to reach out to the parents and educate them about bullying. Then, it will be time to bring in the community. In January, school officials plan to meet with business owners to ask them to hang posters in their storefronts.

"We want to create a family here where the kids feel positive about coming to school," Elroy Elementary Principal Amy Burch said.

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