October is Bullying Prevention Month and the Centralia School District has been implementing a bullying prevention program to help make school a more enjoyable and safer place for students.
“In the past there was not an awareness there and they just handled it (bullying) as “oh kids will be kids” whereas now we understand the mental health aspects of the that and we focus in on it,” said Chelsea Richardson, the school counselor at Edison Elementary, as she talked about how social and emotional learning has changed in regards to bullying and harassment.
Edison Elementary and all other kindergarten through sixth-grade schools in the Centralia School District, use a program called Second Step, which provides a curriculum set that helps teachers and counselors approach bullying differently at each grade level.
“We are working toward creating an environment where no one is worried that if they answer a question wrong that someone is going to snicker at them,” said Andy Justice, Principal of Edison Elementary.
The curriculum provides lessons on bullying that are taught in the classroom setting, but Richardson questions if stand-alone bullying lessons are enough. She emphasized that all teachers at Edison and in the district are educated on how to approach bullying and social learning so that lessons can be embedded throughout the day.
“Through teaching students how to communicate effectively, they are better able to tell counselors or their parents what is going on at school. Opening up those lines of communication is really helpful,” explained Richardson
There are slips of paper and a drop box located right outside of Richardson’s office that can be filled out by students who feel that are being bullied or feel they have witnessed bullying at school.
“That can put that person on my radar. Is it bullying? Let’s investigate. If it’s just being rude and mean, then I can get those students together and work on some conflict resolution,” she explained.
Justice said students are encouraged to be leaders in preventing bullying.
“One of the day-to-day things that Ms. Richardson has been doing that has been really prevalent, is we are really trying to get these kids to pick up leadership roles where they are being seen in a positive light by taking roles of responsibility throughout the building,” he said. “When you are being seen as a positive person you don’t feel like you have to tear someone else down.”
Cyberbullying is prevelent in today’s society and although it is hard to control what students do and say online and outside of school, Edison Elementary tries to help by reducing access and does not allow students to use cell phones on school grounds.
“Cell phones must be off and inside their backpack,” Justice said. “We try to be very proactive. We’re working on positive behaviors but we’ve also been doing trauma studies with a mental health piece. We’re trying to understand where these behaviors are coming from and how to best deal with them by teaching or reteaching the right behaviors.”
The Chronicle sat in on one of the bullying lessons that take place in the Centralia School District. At Edison Elementary, Richardson sat down with a class of second graders and taught them the difference between being mean and bullying.
She read them a children’s book that followed a character who was getting bullied. The character eventually told a teacher about the situation and the bullying stopped.
Richardson had the children repeat several times throughout the reading of the book, “Be brave. Be bold. A teacher must be told.”
The students chanted it with her with enthusiasm. She emphasized that everyone should feel safe at school.
“I became a school counselor to be what I didn’t have. I kind of molded myself to be what I needed as a child,” explained Richardson.