A new school year, new students, new challenges, and new opportunities to help children defend themselves, defend others, and defend against bullying and bigotry.
During a Monday afternoon assembly commemorating October Bullying Prevention Month, Unit 5's Glenn Elementary School Principal Julia Schoonover joined NIOTBN and ISU gymnasts Megan Knoemschild, Allysa Wiggle, and Brianna Barrett to discuss bullying, sportsmanship, respect, and cooperation. NIOTBN posters and stickers were distributed during the assembly -- Glenn was the first local grade school to launch a Not In Our School program.
Previously, bullying was handled largely “on a case-by-case basis,” the principal reported.
“We start last February with the Not In Our School Movement,” Schoonover said. “February was Kindness Month, so we approached things from that angle – all month, we celebrated kind acts the students did while they were at school. We ended with presenting the ‘Not at Glenn’ banner, and students were thrilled to have that in the hallway, as a reminder that we’re a Not In Our School building.
“We now have lots of new students in our school, so we feel like we need to introduce them to what it means to be a Not In Our School organization. We figure this would be a good time to do it, since it’s Bullying Prevention Month. It’s easy to forget something – out of sight, out of mind. But with the banner in the hallway, it helps remind them that we’re not allowing acts of hatred in our school.”
She argues Glenn has been fortunate in enjoying “a pretty good environment” for student harmony, in the midst of a multicultural neighborhood near Bromenn Advocate Healthcare. Beyond its racial diversity, the school serves a number of Indian-American families, providing a new dimension of cultural education and interaction.
But bullying naturally occurs from time to time, and the school thus focuses on helping students discern between an isolated instance of rudeness or meanness and a pattern of bullying, and then to “self-advocate” in a constructive, non-escalating manner. Schoonover sees early behavioral and anti-bullying counseling as an important part of emotional and social development: “They may not be faced with it here or today or tomorrow, but they’ll know what to do when they’re not in school or when they grow up. Our mission is to empower them.”
While social media and a more tech-savvy generation can raise concerns about cyberbullying, shaming, and other 21st Century manifestations, she sees social media playing a positive role in reaching a greater audience, “and thus it lends itself to making this a school wide project.” “There are people talking about it outside the school to make it happen inside the school,” Schoonover said.
In fact, a centerpiece of the Monday assembly was a YouTube video of a fifth-grade Glenn adaptation of Kathryn Otoshi’s One, a 2008 book that explores bullying and bias through numbers and colors. Teachers have read the book with classes, along with written assignments in conjunction with the assembly.
“It talks about how they can be ‘the One’ to make a difference,” noted Schoonover, who emphasized students standing up for others in incidents of attempted bullying. “The teachers also have a poster, ‘Stand Up For What Is Right, Even if You’re Standing Alone.’”