Developing healthy relationships and putting an end to bullying can be a difficult assignment.
The faculty and 105 students at Anchor Point's Chapman School are tackling that task with the help of some new skills and a little practice.
"What we're trying to do is develop and support healthy relationships, respectful relationships," said Chapman Principal Sharon Trout. "It's not just up to one or two kids or even a mediator to stop a bully. It's everybody's responsibility."
As defined in the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District's student handbook, bullying is "the repeated intimidation of others by inflicting or threatening physical, verbal, written, electronic or emotional abuse, or damage to another's property." Bullying can include taunting, name-calling, drawings, gestures, put-downs and more. District students engaging in such behavior are subject to interventions and disciplinary action, including suspension or expulsion. Staff also is held responsible for behavior that can be deemed bullying and are subject to discipline and possible suspension and termination.
Chapman is taking a proactive approach by helping students develop an understanding, language and skills for handling conflict.
"The goal is to give kids a toolkit they can use to make friends, keep friends and stand up for themselves," said Kriste Simonson, school psychologist.
Toward the end of last school year, Trout, Simonson and a team of teachers spent 12 weeks presenting "Steps to Respect, a Bullying Prevention Program" to students in grades 2-8. The youngsters role-played different scenarios, learned the difference between tattletaling and reporting and explored different types of bullying situations.
"They were taught the importance of reporting any type of harassment or bullying to an adult at any time and then the adults in our school were taught how to handle reports," said Trout. "The good about doing these things is that you have kids that know already what to do and kids that don't have a clue or a response other than to hit someone or grab something. So, there's role-playing involved and scripts for what they can say."
This year, nine students in grades 6-8 went through 12 sessions to become peer mediators trained in resolving conflicts between individuals. Working confidentially, they help each person involved explain the conflict and then help the individuals work together to find an agreement.
"They could be any age, but we've trained mostly middle school kids," said Simonson. "They have a script that they read and rules in place so it works out."
Chapman's peer mediators are Katrina Appelhanz, Sebastian Appelhanz, Kenny Cortez, LaBri Estrada, Anna Johnson, Nicetas Lasiter, Andre Martishev, Jacob Raham and Rachel Wood.
"I wanted to be a peer mediator because I like the thought of helping people," said Rachel Wood. "I love to help people because you get a wonderful feeling afterwards, and you get to see those people enjoying what you did for them."
The entire student body also has seen a presentation on peer mediation and conflict management. It includes the steps in filling out a form requesting a conflict be referred to a peer mediator, leaving the form at the office and then being contacted by a peer mediator to establish a time and location for everyone to meet. An adult supervises the meeting, intervening only when necessary.
"I'm always there," said Simonson. "For example, if it's a conflict that I think is a bullying situation, if there's enough evidence for me to say that, I'd want to intervene and report it. Or if someone says they're going to participate and then acts silly, you need an adult there."
The students involved learn to use "I" statements, a less aggressive form of communication, that helps describe feelings and actions: "I feel _____ when you _____ because you _____.
"I learned how to help people solve their problems without actually telling them the way to do it," Rachel said. "We just help them along, kind of like guidelines. That way they learn how to solve their own problems in a way."
The first opportunity to put the program into action recently took place at Chapman.
"The child who had been the victim in this case had been afraid to do anything on his own, but now had a chance to say his peace, the other person had a chance to say his peace and they came up with an agreement," Simonson said of a course of action agreed upon by the youngsters experiencing the conflict. "I asked later how it went and (the victim) was so relieved that something was done with the situation and he could stand up for himself...with the help of someone else."
Sunni Hilts, who represents Anchor Point on the Kenai Peninsula School Board, sees the value in a program that includes students helping students.
"Almost every time we involve kids with other kids, we have a positive response," said Hilts.
For Trout, the approach to conflict management is in keeping with her top priority as Chapman's principal.
"The consistency with this program it that it will teach kids that, yes, you need to go to an adult; yes, you have the right to refuse to be bullied," said Trout. "My number one job as administrator is that every child in this school needs to feel safe and is safe."
McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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