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Petaluma students fight bullying at school workshop

Published: Friday, October 5, 2012 at 9:03 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, October 5, 2012 at 9:03 a.m.

Seeing a schoolmate sad because someone else was bullying him, Old Adobe Elementary School second-grader Delaney became an ally.

“Are you OK?” she asked him. “Are you sure? Do you need a friend?”

Delaney was play acting Thursday at the Petaluma school, and her friend wasn't really the victim of a bully. The role-playing was practice for real-world problems schoolchildren face.

Old Adobe parents invited Soul Shoppe, an Oakland bullying prevention organization, to work with every student at the school, from kindergartners through sixth-graders, on how to spot bullying and how to stop it before someone is seriously hurt.

“Please stop. We don't want this at our school,” about 100 kids said in unison, following the example of Soul Shoppe leader Joseph Savage, who has run the program for 13 years with co-founder Vicki Abadesco, both former teachers.

Interacting with the fidgety youngsters, Savage invited small groups of children to practice the program's key points: Step in, stand up, be an ally.

First, he asked them to define bullying.

Teasing, especially repetitive mocking, done purposely to be hurtful, they agreed.

Often, he said, bullies are people who have “full balloons” in their hearts, where they've hid their bad memories or unhappy feelings. People who show bullying behavior tend to take that out — or “empty their balloon” — on other people.

The antidote, Savage showed them, is to “become an ally.”

“Someone who helps and is a friend,” the children repeated to him.

“I'm going to show you how to do that,” he told them. “Sometimes it's kinda scary. We need some strong people, strong in their hearts.”

While bullying statistics are imprecise, some surveys have shown nearly 20 percent of kids feel they've been bullied at school.

The class, the third year in a row it's been offered at Old Adobe, teaches kids the right words to use to defuse a situation and make the bully and the bullied feel better.

“I see them use the language on the playground,” said second-grade teacher Juliet James. “They're doing it independently now. They're taking the initiative.”

District Superintendent Cindy Pilar praised the class for helping kids recognize bullying and give them the real-life strategies to prevent it.

Savage told teachers that as a society we are being trained by television to laugh when someone is being bullied.

“Yes, this happens,” he said. “But maybe it doesn't have to happen.”

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