Character counts: CYSS programs promote strong students, citizens
February 10, 2011
FORT LEE, Va. (Feb. 10, 2011) -- Bullying is a problem that doesn't go away on its own said Lisa Williams, the mother of Christian Taylor, a young man who hung himself May 31, 2010, after enduring months of harassment at a Virginia high school.
In addition to living the nightmare of losing a child to suicide, Williams has begun a crusade to eliminate bullying everywhere with a foundation named in honor of her son.
"People just don't get that this is a serious problem," she said "And it's getting worse. It's not about what clothes we wear, what activities we choose - bullying is about everyone," Williams said. "I am making it my job to ensure everyone knows how much bullying hurts."
It's a sentiment that national and local educational leaders also embrace. The Virginia School Boards Association began the calendar year with a Bullying-Prevention Month to empower schools and parents to end childhood harassment and ultimately prevent outcomes like Taylor's.
The Department of Defense and the Department of the Army are proactive when it comes to preparing children for life situations, including conflict resolution, from the earliest stages, said Penny White, Child Youth and School Services training and curriculum specialist at the Yorktown Drive Child Development Center.
"Character Counts, an Army-wide program geared to promote appropriate behavior, is incorporated in all of our curriculums," White said. "At this stage (toddler/preschool) we do not dedicate an isolated session about bullying - it is worked into daily activities that teach manners, negotiation skills and conflict resolution."
In the Army Strong Beginnings Preschool program, the almost school-agers are taught respect for others. The center uses the Second Step Violence Prevention Curriculum to discuss scenarios focusing on behaviors including teasing, taunting and isolation - all characteristics of bullying.
"Using a stuffed animal, we teach the children what we use our hand for - to clap, to hold, to write - and how we use our mouths - to eat, to talk - and what we use our feet for - walking not kicking," said Jessica Turner, an Army Strong Beginnings program assistants at CDC Yorktown.
"We teach them about respect for each other," Turner said. "Everyone is allowed their space and to become accustomed in the morning before others can greet them," Turner said.
For conflict resolution, the pre-school program utilizes a "peace table" where children who are having a problem sit with a teacher and discuss the issue and work for a peaceful resolution.
"They sit down and we encourage them to express their feelings," said Daisy Nelson, program assistant for Strong Beginnings. "We want them to use their words to explain how their classmate's behavior has made them feel."
When children graduate from Army Strong Beginnings and begin their primary education, the School Age Center offers services and programs that continue to build on the Character Counts Pillars, White said.
SAC teaches appropriate behaviors at all levels with a variety of activities, said Randee Flowers, Youth Center training and program specialist.
"We engage the school-age children in a 'Daily Dilemma Discussion' every morning while waiting for the school buses," Flowers said. For older middle school and teen, or MST students, we utilize group discussions to focus on hot topics in our 'Let's Talk About It' activities on a weekly basis or as needed. The group talks through the problem and offers solutions and ideas for resolutions.
One teen who visits the Youth Center on a regular basis said she doesn't see bullying in her Prince George school. However, name calling is a constant and girls are the worst.
"They'll call each other names but neither one gets the better of the other," the eighth grader said. "It doesn't seem like bullying when no one ever gets the upper hand."
But the seemingly victimless exchanges could lead to more serious instances over time. Name-calling is one of the hallmarks of bullying behaviors.
Being knowledge about the scope of bullying in the first step in combating the issue, said ShaVohn Curley, the MST program manager.
Curley spends a lot of time with the teens at the youth center. She said the open dialog and free path of communication she shares with the majority of teens who use the youth center stems from a mutual trust between staff members and the teens.
"We don't see a lot of bullying in the teen program," Curley said. "We resolve issues as they arise. We strive to ensure everyone feels comfortable enough to seek adult intervention when needed."
Outside of the confines of the installation, Fort Lee students still have a dedicated advocate for their educational needs. While the CYSS School Liaison Office doesn't play an active role in the prevention of bullying, the school liaison officer, Nancy Elzie, does help enhance educational experience through CYSS programs and partnerships in education. Elzie is the primary link between military families and the local school systems.
Often one of the first stops for incoming personnel, the SLO helps families make informed decisions regarding education. Elzie maintains relationships with the school board superintendents in Chesterfield, Petersburg, Hopewell, Colonial Heights and Prince George schools. She acts a conduit for information for all students including home school groups and home school students on the installation.
"I collaborate with the schools, installation organizations and community organizations to help facilitate the educational experiences of military children and youth," Elzie said. "From coordinating education transition to educating parents on the local school system policies, procedures and schedules to acquainting the community outside the gates about the military lifestyle and resources, I am here 100 percent for the military family."
For more information about the CYSS programs available on Fort Lee, call (804) 765-3848.
This concludes the Traveller's three-part series on school bullying. The full series can be found online at www.ftleetraveller.com.