Northeast Elementary is a K-5 school in Montclair, a district well known for its diversity and efforts to maintain equity. Northeast’s global magnet theme challenges over 450 students to become mindful, 21st-century learners. Last year, the school decided to create a comprehensive approach to building a positive school climate and prevent harassment, intimidation, and bullying (HIB). The result was an increase in the positive attitudes and interactions among students.
School staff implemented RESPECT (Respecting Every Single Person and Educating Classroom Teams) Campaign. The program, created by Dr. Silvia C. Pastor and Dr. Joseph A. Putrino, Jr., asks staff, students, and community members to create collaborative and consistent approaches to defining, identifying, and intervening with bullying related behaviors and maintaining a respectful, supportive, caring learning environment for all persons.
RESPECT trainings are separated into three stages, based upon monthly objectives. During the first stage, teachers, staff and community members were introduced to the goals of the program. A showcase engaged the students and the community in exciting activities associated with respecting one another and embracing differences. The second stage focused on increasing awareness among students, teachers and community members by introducing terms, vocabulary, and statistics. The third stage centered on effective intervention strategies not only at the reactive level, but in being proactive to develop a positive and supportive environment within the school system.
Each month after trainings are given, teachers are able to adapt the materials to attach RESPECT to other lessons and themes and meet the developmental needs and cultural backgrounds of their students.
Dana Cornwell, a kindergarten teacher, created a lesson using the book The Crayon Box that Talks, by Shane DeRolf, for the first stage, called the orientation level. The lesson is designed to teach students that while we may all look different on the outside, it is important to respect each other and remember that we all have something special to offer. In the classroom, Cornwell emphasizes how “using vocabulary in multiple settings and lessons allows it to really sink in for the kids.”
Working toward developing students’ basic understanding of respectful behaviors and school-wide expectations, Karyn Maliszewski, a second-grade teacher, discussed the impact of words and the effect both kind and unkind words can have on others. This is accomplished through a read aloud of Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes. Maliszewski says that her classroom has learned “tolerance for individual differences” through this lesson. Maliszewski, who has written a grant to obtain additional materials to help her students learn the importance of respect, believes that by teaching problem-solving skills, students will begin to use effective strategies on their own to resolve problems within their everyday lives.
The first training within the second stage provides vocabulary and statistics associated with bullying and youths. (A webcast showcasing this training can be found at www.montclair.k12.nj.us. Click on Northeast Elementary and scroll to webcasts.) It is also important to build an awareness of what specific bullying behaviors look like. Kristen McCann, Northeast’s technology teacher, created a lesson for her fifth-grade students to help children become aware of the dangerous effects of cyberbullying. McCann teaches her students that cyberbullying is “not okay, in fact, in some cases it may be worse because technology is so accessible today and rarely monitored.”
McCann also created a lesson on kindness for third graders in which they take pictures of students engaged in various acts of kindness. “Kindness ‘Komic’ Strip” helps students to recognize simple acts of kindness that occur in their everyday lives.
Finally, at the third stage, the trainings concentrate on effective, research-based interventions and strategies for HIB prevention and response. Sample scripts are used to teach children effective communication strategies as well as sample phrases and strategies to use when parents and staff witness or suspect disrespectful behaviors.
Judy Alday, Northeast’s self-contained classroom teacher, reports there is definitely an “air of respect” around the building. She finds that her students develop a better understanding of the terminology and strategies to use and “students are taking it upon themselves to include her students at lunch time, in music class, or on the playground.” Alday created a lesson called KITE that teaches children the vocabulary to use when they are upset. By learning from a script, students strengthen their ability to communicate their feelings effectively and better navigate their daily lives.
Not only does RESPECT address the New Jersey requirement for HIB, it enables teachers, staff, parents and the school system as a whole to have responsibility and ownership over the program and its outcomes. Teachers are able to implement developmentally appropriate lesson plans that reflect their communities while feeling connected to the materials, policies and strategies.
This year, Northeast has recorded fewer bullying incidents, and many staff members believe the RESPECT program deserves the credit. In addition to the state-mandated “Respect Week” scheduled in October, Northeast will hold another Respect Week this month, which will encourage students to respect their bodies through healthy, active lifestyles.
Dr. Silvia C. Pastor, RESPECT Director
Montclair State University
Dr. Joseph A. Putrino, Jr., RESPECT Director
Montclair School District
Kevin DeJong, RESPECT Coordinator
Montclair State University