All should be positive role models for youths

The 2016 Seneca County Health Assessment revealed that 44 percent of area youth reported being bullied in the past year. Youth violence/bullying was identified as one of the priorities to be addressed by the Seneca County Health Alliance’s Community Health Improvement Plan. For that reason, a Seneca County Bullying Prevention Coalition was formed to research bullying in Seneca County and determine effective means of prevention. This coalition is made up of concerned citizens, community leaders and local organizations involved with youth. The coalition is gathering information from local entities to help the community become more aware of the practices that are in place to prevent bullying behaviors.

The first in a series is the following article written by Michelle Tuite, director of educational programs at Tiffin City Schools.

“Sticks and stones will break your bones, but names will never hurt you. …” Do you remember this playground song that many sang so long ago? Words will never hurt you. Or do they? 

Too often, we tell our children to ignore others when they are being mean and contrary. But words can hurt. They can cut very deeply. When written, they are forever etched in a memory and, regardless of an apology, they still linger.

What if we taught our children, rather than ignoring those ugly words, to confront the situation in a strong and assertive way? We could empower them and teach them appropriate responses to affect their future positively.

Tiffin City Schools has about 2,800 children enrolled for daily classes. These students range from 3 years old to more than 18 years old. With such a broad array, is it possible to teach every student how to properly respond when they are faced with a bullying situation?

For our youngest learners, we teach them to use kind hands, use their words, take turns and play nicely with each other. This is the foundation on which we continue to build. At Washington Elementary, students in kindergarten and first grade are encouraged to be “bucket fillers.” We want to empower them to make wise choices that make the other person feel good. 

Teachers model this behavior in their classrooms and the adults who witness these kind acts celebrate the kind words and good choices. Students do not want to be a “bucket dipper.” That would be dipping into someone’s invisible bucket by using mean words or using hands for hitting. It is critical that adults model appropriate behavior every day of these young children’s lives. Adults must show them the proper way to respond.

The students at Krout 2-3 were recipients of grant funds from the Garlapati Family Fund of The Tiffin Community Foundation. This fund was established in 2011 to provide grants and scholarships to prevent bullying. Students and staff each received a T-shirt that physically reminded them of good choices and positive character traits. Those students who went above and beyond received another T-shirt in a different color and were added to the “Wall of Fame.” The program also included pizza celebrations for students who modeled good behavior.

Noble 4-5 continued the “Kind as Kennedy” campaign that teaches being kind to others with the help of our therapy dog, Kennedy. Students were given an opportunity to purchase T-shirts and parents helped track random acts of kindness on a Google doc to show how our students were putting what they learned into motion. Students set personal and academic goals and reviewed them periodically throughout the year.  

A new program that began in the 2016 school year was the REACH program. This program linked every classroom of fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders with a significant adult. Members of the community committed to monthly visits where they discussed careers and career pathways with the students. This program was an incredible addition to our curriculum and contributed greatly to our overall success.

The middle school works with two guidance counselors to establish Student Ambassadors. Students are empowered and trained to react to various situations with positive behavior. The campaign for last year was, “Kindness, the act that smiles back!” Students write powerful affirmations of themselves and others and post them in the hallways. They are learning to appreciate and celebrate their collective differences!

At Columbian, our students are even closer to adulthood and the “real world.” This is the environment where they can put strategies and practices into motion as they maneuver through an awkward age. Our students who attend Sentinel are exposed to a strong character program. It outlines and reinforces the many skills that they will need to recall and use in every day encounters.

At the close of the 2016-17 school year, our staff spent many hours in building a positive behavior intervention system that would be implemented district wide.  We understand the need that exists. While it is not yet the time to release the program throughout the district, we will continue to work on this process in individual buildings.

While all of these programs are beneficial and necessary, it is crucial to have a partnership with the families of our students. We need to maintain a transparency that allows for meaningful relationships. We must develop relationships that embrace candid conversation and viable solutions. We need a system that encourages caregivers and stakeholders to share concerns that their students have. This is a daunting task! Even on our best days, we will falter but it is essential that we prioritize the building of a positive culture and climate for our students.  

What can you do?  

Talk to your student(s). Support them in being assertive and addressing situations with role playing.

Talk to the staff at the school or on the bus. Making us aware will allow the adults to support your student at school.

Model positive interactions with your student. Be sure to use kind and gentle words when referring to others.Use every situation as a learning experience. Talk through the various choices that could be used. Role play the “right” way to respond and the “wrong” way to respond.

Be patient. Realize our society is very different than when we were growing up. Social media has played a very different role in society and while beneficial, it is also a catalyst for ugly behavior.

If you would like to make a monetary contribution to The Garlapati Family Fund for prevention of bullying and scholarships for students who demonstrate leadership to prevent bullying, you may do so at Tiffin Community Foundation.

Together, with time and consistency we can make a difference. After all, aren’t our kiddos worth it?