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ADL Helps Students With ABCs of Empathy

Students are outside at recess, taking turns to use the slide, when a tall girl cuts in front of everyone and climbs to the top as she says something mean to a boy  wearing a jacket that is torn and ratty.

That’s a generic example, but unfortunately, such things happen on playgrounds, and fourth- and fifth-graders at Waddell Elementary School spent time last week discussing how to react in such situations.

The sessions were conducted by representatives of the Anti-Defamation League, an organization dedicated to protecting civil rights. They were invited to the school by Renee Bryan, Waddell’s family resource center coordinator.

“Before they came. I actually gave them specific incidents that had happened at our playground,” Renee said, adding the workshops include lots of role playing. “So it was very relevant and personal for our kids.”

Kim Loveland, the Waddell principal, said the school has been planning the anti-bullying workshops since the fall as part of a comprehensive, pro-active campaign to build a healthy and positive climate at the school.

“Based on feedback we were getting from families and the types of referrals we were getting,” she said, ”we recognized the importance of teaching students the difference between mean behavior and bullying -- and, especially,  how to handle mean behavior before it turns into bullying.”

The ADL approach was particularly helpful, Renee said, because the sessions included discussions of common terminology that students then used as they discussed various situations.

The terms were ally. bystander, perpetrator and target. And of them, the first -- ally -- got lots of attention.

In fact, as the ADL literature says, the program was designed to engage students “in exploring the harms of name-calling and bullying and developing and practicing skills to act as allies and help contribute to creating a positive ‘ally culture’ at their school.”

As Renee says, students discussed how “sometimes, standing up to the perpetrator can just cause more problems.”

You can be an ally in different ways, she added, such as “by not gossiping about someone.”

“We want students to focus energy on giving support to the target versus reacting to perpetrator,” she said.  

Both Kim and Renee said they are confident that the sessions had a meaningful impact on students and they said they would keep the conversation going.

“I’m confident that this will help as we continue to promote a positive school culture here at Waddell,” Renee said.

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