Never too young

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 20, 2013

SALISBURY — Lea Silverburg sees hundreds of kindergarten and first-grade students a week, and “Puppy” accompanies her to every classroom.
The stuffed animal wears a school uniform and name tag. Lately, Puppy has been wearing a scarf, preparing for the winter, and wearing a button on his lapel that says, “Take a stand against bullying.”
Yes, children this young are discussing bullying and ways to stop it quickly, thanks to the Second Step curriculum provided by Families First.
“As a community,” says Jeannie Sherrill, executive director of Families First, “all of the children are our responsibility, and we need to teach them early the things we need to know to get along — to appreciate and respect each other.”
For the past several weeks, Second Step’s three teachers — Silverburg, Ellen Huffman and Elizabeth Lattimore — have been spreading an anti-bullying message to nine elementary schools which participate in the once-a-week curriculum.
More than 1,000 kindergarten and first-grade students are reached by Second Step, which also has added an Early Learning Curriculum for 4-year-olds at Head Start sites.
Second Step’s five- to six-week unit on bullying is new this year, but important.
Each teacher has her own “Puppy,” all first cousins, Silverburg said.
Puppy’s and the teachers’ message on bullying concentrates on the three R’s:
• Recognize what bullying is.
• Report it to a grown up.
• Refuse to let it happen.
“There is a great deal of research that demonstrates the impact that bullying has on the victims, the bully and the bystanders,” Sherrill says.
“I’m showing my age, but I remember Joey the Clown every afternoon on television who ended his shows with, ‘Be kind, because all we have in this world is each other.’”
Silverburg recently spoke to Candice Weathers’ first-grade class at Koontz Elementary School about the third “R,” standing for “refuse.”
The message essentially was, refuse to let bullying happen. “You will not accept it, because it’s wrong,” Silverburg told the students.
If that doesn’t sink in, children must then tell the bullies they will be reported to an adult if they don’t quit.
Third, children who see someone else being bullied should act as a friend, step in and take the person being bullied somewhere else.
This was the point of a little skit Silverburg directed with three of the children: Macari House, Breana Austin and Jackelyn Esquivel.
For this exercise, Macari was bullying Breana, while Jackelyn was off to the side minding her own business until she saw the bullying taking place.
She stepped in and guided Breana away from the bully. This act also leaves the bully with only himself as an audience.
In connection to this message, Silverburg read Ms. Weathers’ class a book about a girl who witnesses bullying and realizes she can’t be a bystander.
“No one is ever too small to stand up,” Silverburg said. “You can make the difference if you say something.”
She liked the African proverb at the beginning of the book. It said, “If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping in a room with a mosquito.”
Believe it or not, Weathers said, there had been some bullying in her class, and it had to be squashed.
So it starts early.
For good measure, Silverburg reviewed the other two “R’s” during her time with the Koontz class.
Students should “recognize” bullying for what it is. It’s not being bothered or teased by someone one time, but bullying occurs over and over.
To “report” on a bully — the second “R” — is not tattling and trying to get someone in trouble, Silverburg emphasized.
She advised the children to tell someone they trust about the bullying — an adult such as a teacher, principal or guidance counselor.
Based on a Committee for Children curriculum created in Seattle, Second Step is a 32-week program.
Its first unit focused on self-regulation, which used to be called anger management. This segment looked at how children can go about controlling strong feelings such as anger, frustration and sadness.
“All feelings are OK,” Silverburg said, “but it’s how you handle them. There are ways you can handle them.”
The second unit dealt with the learning process and how to focus, pay attention and talk yourself through a problem.
Puppy is often the star of Second Step. He gives out a lollipop and birthday card for each student’s birthday.
But during class, he only talks and confers with the teacher.
“Puppy tells me something the kids need to know,” Silverburg explained.
His latest advice: “Bullying hurts everyone.”
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263, or