South Summit Elementary School sees decrease in bullying with new initiatives
The principal of South Summit Elementary School wants to see bullying eradicated from the school. After implementing half a dozen anti-bullying and community-building initiatives this school year, she is on her way to seeing her goal become a reality.
Lisa Flinders, the principal, said the amount of students being sent to her office is decreasing, and so is the number of conflicts taking place during recess.
“Overall, there is just a really good feeling in the school,” she said.
The positive changes can be attributed to new practices at the school, she said, including more frequent assemblies and the presence of two parent educators committed to helping students who have had behavioral problems in the past.
One of the biggest changes is in the school’s “learning place,” formerly known as the school’s resource center for students who needed extra help with academics. Flinders changed the name of the room when she assumed her role as principal in 2017, but this year, she went a step further. She wanted to make it a positive place students visit for a variety of needs. She, along with teachers and parent educators, met at the beginning of the school year to talk about students who had bullied their peers the previous year and the students that had been bullied. Then, they made a game plan.
Two parent educators, Jill Tuttle and Pam Woolstenhulme, were tasked with heading the learning place throughout the year. They were told to reach out to students who had been involved in bullying or who had behavioral problems and check in on them from time to time. They attended lunches and recesses and talked to the kids.
Tuttle also started teaching mindfulness in classes, and the learning place evolved to become a place anyone who was struggling could come. Students who are having conflicts with friends or are having a bad day are invited to come during intervention time, Flinders said.
Woolstenhulme, who has worked at the school for 10 years, said the learning place, and the school in general, has turned around.
Flinders said students at the school have positive relationships with Tuttle and Woolstenhulme, which has helped change the school’s atmosphere.
“We found that the biggest help has been developing respectful, trusting relationships with kids, and helping them to know how to do that with their peers,” she said.
Flinders also wanted to develop her own relationships with students, so she started holding Monday Morning Math meetings and Read to Me Fridays. On Monday mornings, students are invited to come early to school to work on math with Flinders. On Fridays, Flinders reads to students.
“That gives the kids an opportunity to develop a relationship with me so that when they come to my office, it is not a scary thing. They know me and they trust me,” she said.
Then, to strengthen the sense of community at the school, she began to hold regular “community assemblies,” during which guest speakers or Flinders give a presentation about one part of the school’s mission, which is LEARN. It stands for love, engage, aspire, respect and never give up.
To recognize students who are behaving positively, the school rewards kids by giving them a paper fish every time they are seen doing good deeds. The fish are put on a wall with the student’s name on it for the other students to see. Twice a year, Flinders puts the fish in a raffle and draws names to give prizes to the students.
Flinders said decreasing bullying has been one of her main goals since she became principal of the school, but she wanted to use her first year to adjust to the role. When the school year started last fall, she did not hold anything back.
“My goal is that every single student in our school feels loved, appreciated, respected and valued by teachers and staff members, but by their peers, too,” she said.
Flinders admits that it has been difficult to get so many new initiatives off the ground in one year. But, if she ever feels overwhelmed by the task, she remembers the last part of the school’s mission statement: Never give up.
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