Local kids aim to combat bullying before it starts


Schuyler Phillips and John Joire, third-graders at Lafayette Elementary School, lie on the floor with river stones on their bellies. “You can use your deep breathing to control your anger,” says teacher Linda Ryden, who begins her peace class sessions with listening and deep breathing exercises. (Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post)
October 26, 2012

We’ll start this story with a quiz. Read the three examples below and quickly decide if each of them is an example of bullying. Your answers can be “Probably Yes,” “Probably No” or “Not Really Sure.”

A. While trying not to be late to class, a bigger student knocks a smaller student to the ground.

B. The first time your best friend shows up for school with braces, you greet her by saying, “Hi there, Metal Mouth!”

C. A girl shares every bit of gossip she hears about a new kid in class with her 500 Facebook friends.

October is National Bullying Prevention Month, so before we give you the answers, why don’t we talk about what bullying is, what kids can do about it and what two local schools are doing to prevent it?


The stuffed mascot of the Guardian Eagles anti-bullying club sits next to the group's Bully-Free Pledge at Thurgood Marshall Elementary School in Manassas, VA. October is Anti-bullying month and this group of students counsels about bullying. (Jahi Chikwendiu/WASHINGTON POST)

For starters, we should probably explain bullying.

Marsha Blakeway, who works with students at Alice Deal Middle School in Washington on solving problems between people, said bullying is “repeated behavior that is intended to do harm and that has a power component.” The “power component” means that the bully has an amount of control that makes it hard for the person being bullied to defend herself.

If you are being bullied or if you see something you think is bullying, tell an adult — someone you trust at home, school or church. Kids often think that if they talk to an adult, they are tattling.

“Tattling is to get someone in trouble,” Blakeway said. “Telling is to keep someone from getting hurt.”

Helping kids recognize bullying

Students at Thurgood Marshall Elementary in Manassas take a bully-free pledge that includes speaking up when they see bullying. But a group of fourth- and fifth-graders called the Guardian Eagles does even more. The kids act as peer mediators, talking with other students to solve small problems that could turn into bullying.

“We just try to find out what really happened and get them to think about what the other person thought,” said Jennifer Roderick, a fifth-grader.

The kids also make posters and put pins on their backpacks as a reminder of the school’s pledg e.

Michael Cornwell, now a senior at Osbourn High School, helped start the program four years ago with a middle-school friend and Marshall counselor Anaid Shaver. Cornwell thought that some of the bullying he saw in middle school could be avoided by making younger kids aware that they can do something about it.

“If a whole group tried to stop bullying, it would be positive peer pressure,” Michael said.

The students said some of the behavior they used to notice has disappeared.

“Sometimes on the bus the big kids would pick on the third-graders,” said Erin Dolan, a fifth-grader. “A lot of people are being nicer now.”

The program has spread to five other Prince William County elementary schools, and the Guardian Eagles said they hope to keep their group going in middle school.

Giving peace a chance

At Lafayette Elementary in Northwest Washington, students in grades 2 through 5 have an elective once a week called peace class.

Linda Ryden begins each class with listening and deep breathing exercises. As a recent class of third-graders sat silent with eyes closed, Ryden instructed them to focus on slowly filling and emptying their bellies of air.

“You can use your deep breathing to control your anger,” she told the class.

Ryden also uses what she calls mindful movements — stretching of their arms and legs along with some balancing. One student said the exercises aren’t just for class time.

“Sometimes on the field [at recess] I practice the mindful movements,” said John Joire, who is in third grade. “I think it calms me down before we go into the classroom.”

Each week, Ryden teaches topics such as apologizing, complimenting and thinking before speaking. She also assigns them a “peace pal,” a classmate who maybe isn’t a close friend. The kids report back at the next class on what kind things they did for their pal.

“I like to draw them pictures because I’m a good artist,” said third-grader Reign Mosby. “And I like to play with them at recess.”

Ryden said she hopes the lessons will prevent Lafayette kids from becoming bullies. “The challenge,” she said, “is to keep them practicing kindness.”

And the answers are ...

So, back to our quiz. Reread the three situations on page 1 now that you know a bit more about bullying and see if you would change your answers.

A. Probably no, but the bigger kid needs to apologize and be more careful.

B. Probably no, but it’s not the nicest thing to say to a friend.

C. Probably yes. An adult needs to be told so the girl posting the messages can be talked to about the impact of her behavior.

T.H.I.N.K.: Questions to ask yourself

READ: Great books about bullying

FIND OUT MORE: Anti-bullying web sites

— Christina Barron

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