By Kris Gonzalez, Fort Jackson LeaderNovember 18, 2010
And school administrators are working to make sure Fort Jackson's children are protected.
From introducing an anonymous "bully box" to implementing positive behavior incentive programs, staff at Pierce Terrace and C.C. Pinckney Elementary schools are taking progressive measures to combat bullying in their classrooms.
Both schools have incorporated Trevor Romain's "Bullies Are a Pain in the Brain" anti-bullying program into their curriculum. Through reading, writing, discussion and watching motivational videos, the students learn how to be proactive in preventing bullying themselves.
"Our main goal is to prevent problems from occurring," said Debbie Magill, C.C. Pinckney's counselor. "By implementing programs like this, we can address (bullying) early. It makes a big difference. I think we do a good job at nipping it in the bud."
The program, based on Romain's books and cartoons, uses humor, music and interactive children's stories to provide students practical and easy-to-implement solutions for dealing with bullies.
The students learn to focus on building confidence, standing up for themselves and others, telling adults about bullying they endure or witness, and understanding why bullies bully. Key to the program is that students are heavily encouraged to write about their experiences and feelings in journals.
On Nov. 3, Romain made a guest appearance at the Fort Jackson schools and he told the students how his father introduced him to journaling when Romain was only 8 years old.
"I put all my frustration, all my anger, all my dreams and all my hopes in my journals, and that was an amazing self-regulating program for me," he said. "Sometimes just simply putting your feelings down on paper can really help."
Romain shared personal stories about dealing with bullying during his childhood, and how his experiences helped him succeed in life.
During his presentation, he used animation, antics and role-playing to engage his young audience. He simulated passing a book bag from one student to another to demonstrate how bullies pass off their negative feelings onto somebody else so that they are not alone in carrying their emotions and feelings. He showed the students how a bully's transfer of emotional baggage can weigh heavily on the other person.
Then he held up a $5 bill and asked the children what the bill was worth.
"Five dollars," the students replied.
He crumpled it up, threw it on the ground, stomped on it, picked it back up and asked again what the bill was worth.
"Five dollars," they repeated.
"It was a great visual for the kids," said Brian Perry, Pierce Terrace principal. "It showed that even though somebody may be mean to you, or may be bullying you, your self-worth is the same."
He asked the students how many of them had been bullied and how many of them had bullied others.
"I was surprised to see the amount of hands that went up when he asked how many of them had ever been bullied," said Jamie Burns, Fort Jackson school psychologist. "I was even more surprised to see the amount of children who admitted they were bullies."
"It's hard to admit you're a bully," Romain said. "(Admitting is) half of the battle."
Each child had his or her own reason for bullying. Most said they did it because they were frustrated or angry.
"I was impressed they were able to recognize that and understand what they had done," Romain said when he met with parents and teachers in separate presentations later. "Each one of them felt bad or ashamed for what they had done."
He spoke to the caregivers about the importance of looking into the reasons why children bully.
"We need to look at the reasons instead of just saying 'You're a bad person, don't bully,'" he said. "If a kid's bullying, most of the time that child has got something going on. People don't just do that."
"They may climb on the bandwagon when somebody starts saying mean things, but normally when children say mean things it's because they're trying to boost themselves," Romain continued. "Maybe they're feeling insecure and they want to be accepted. We have to investigate why they feel the need to do that.
"And when we talk to victims, we should say 'Just look at the bully and say to yourself, 'Wow, it must be really hard for that person to come to school every day and be mean to make themselves feel better.' Then we're shifting the emphasis away from them owning it and being a victim to having them realize it's the bully's problem, it's not (the bullied) who (are) insecure."
Romain said one of the most important things parents and teachers must do for the children is create a comfortable communication system students can use to report what's going on.
"A lot of these kids don't even tell their parents what's worrying them," he said. "Some kids are having a really hard time, and in a day and age when kids are taking their own lives because of bullying, we have to have every avenue possible for them to be able to ask for help."
The school administrators are already coming up with creative ways to reach out to their students.
Magill personally makes time to eat lunch with students each week to find out in an informal way what's going on in the school.
Burns said she is working with staff to create bully boxes to place in each school's cafeteria so that students can anonymously report incidents of bullying.
Both schools have implemented a Life Skills Program that helps students focus on doing the right thing. Each month, the students learn about a character trait, such as loyalty, and students are rewarded for exemplifying those traits. Students are recognized over the intercom during the schools' morning shows and are rewarded with small prizes.
Pierce Terrace also flies a "peace flag" every day. One side of the flag is purple; the other side is white. If someone does something they are not supposed to do, like spitting, hitting or messing around, the flag flies with its white side showing. If there are no reports of inappropriate behavior, the flag flies with its purple side showing. After the flag has flown purple for 20 consecutive days, the students have a celebration, where they enjoy extra recess or treats.
"The goal (of the incentive programs are) to build a sense of community among the students and to encourage them to be supportive of one another," Burns said.
"Life's hard enough," Magill said she often tells her students. "We're in this together. We need to build each other up."