Students learn social skills

J.W. Faulk Elementary students Thursday committed to make their school bully-free by using new methods to express their feelings without hurting others.

“It’s okay to feel mad, afraid, sad or lonely … but here’s the question: What are you going to do about it?” asked Asher Lyons, a facilitator with Soul Shoppe, an Oakland, Calif., based organization.

Soul Shoppe helps schools create safe, bully-free environments through training and interactive programs.

“Are we going to take it out on other people or are we going to ask for some help?” Lyons asked a group of kindergarten and first-grade students Thursday morning.

Lyons met with students in kindergarten through fifth grade at the school, tailoring the lessons to the age group.

The school invited Soul Shoppe to its campus to help build a positive culture among students, said Dana Bernard, the school’s focus teacher.

“We want the kids to have more of a sense of community at school,” Bernard said. “We’re trying to help them grasp the concepts of team-building and leadership. A feeling of: We’re together. We’re a team. We’re a family.”

Lyons asked students a series of questions: “If you had the power to decide how your school is going to be … would you want to go to a school where people hurt each other? Where people tease each other? Where people call each other names?”

After each question, a chorus of “no!” came from the kindergarten and first-grade students.

He then asked them to turn to their teachers and tell them, “Let’s solve these problems. Let’s help each other out.”

Lyons gave the students tips on how to express their feelings by telling their friends how they feel and what they need from them.

He showed students video clips of children acting out their feelings in negative ways toward their friends. Later, he showed how those children changed the negative situation by being honest with their friends and expressing their feelings. He had a few students role play the same exercises. The Faulk students ended the exercise by asking the other child to be their friend.

Lyons then had a job for all the students in the room.

“Turn to your teachers and say: ‘That’s how we solve a problem. That’s how we work it out,’” Lyons said.

When students don’t express their feelings, those feelings fill up inside people like air in a balloon, Lyons said. As the balloon gets bigger, it starts to leak out “unhealthy” decisions and actions, he told them.

“That’s when we need to ask for some …,” Lyons paused and students chimed in the answer, “Help!”

Bernard said the school tries to take a preventative approach to bullying behavior.

“We wanted to be proactive,” she said.

Districtwide, all school system employees from teachers to janitors and cafeteria workers who have any contact with students will be required to receive at least four hours of training on how to identify, report and respond to bullying behavior on their campuses. The required training and uniform reporting and investigative policies are required in all school districts by state law effective Jan. 1.

Between August and November, 246 cases of bullying had been reported at all schools in the district, according to figures provided by Bradley Cruice, the district’s health and wellness director.

District data shows that for the same time period in 2011, 155 bullying incidents were reported.

Cruice said the increase could be attributed to the district’s focus on bullying reporting and prevention and the presence of additional staff on campuses this school year as part of the district’s new health and wellness initiatives.