Three years ago Minnesauke Elementary School developed an anti-bullying program called STARS that proved successful in reducing behavioral referrals to the school office. However, the majority of behavior infractions continued to happen on their school buses.
In New York state, in 2012, a new law was decreed called DASA (Dignity for All Students Act) to provide a school environment free of discrimination and harassment for all students. In 2013, the Act was amended to include the term bullying and prohibit cyberbullying. Under this law, school districts are responsible for preventing bullying through staff training to raise awareness and sensitivity of school employees to issues of harassment and discrimination, sensitivity and tolerance for students.
The schools in the Three Village Central School District meet four to five times a year for a Positive Behavioral Intervention & Supports (PBIS) committee meeting to discuss, brainstorm, share and collaborate on creating safe school environments for their students. They share materials, information on programs, network and are recognized for their efforts.
Leia Woodruff, School Social Worker for Minnesauke Elementary School, acknowledged the district’s support and encouragement in the success of the STARS program in her school. In fact, her one bit of advice for other schools wanting to implement an anti-bullying program is to not do it alone. Her school’s committee includes teachers, counsellors and administrators with some working on calendars and some on creating reward systems. As Woodruff puts it, they divided and conquered the work needing to be done.
"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has." – Margaret Mead
When starting the anti-bullying program at Minnesauke, the committee struggled with developing the identity. In Woodruff’s words, “we were just not cool enough.” So they decided to get the students involved and now believe the sooner and more involved the students are in an anti-bullying program, the more successful it is.
The grade six students were challenged with finding an acronym to define the program. Two students came up with S.T.A.R.S. – Sharing, Trustworthy, Accepting, Respectful and Serving. The art teacher led an art contest for the identity to represent their school’s vision and the student body voted on the graphic. The winning STAR symbol was printed on the t-shirts that staff and students wear proudly every Friday on Spirit Day.
When asked how best to encourage kids to participate in the program, Woodruff said put the message in front of them every day, all day. They have posters, banners and STARS everywhere, on every classroom door, and anyone can catch someone ‘Shining Like a STAR.’ When that happens, the student’s name and what they did are written on a STAR and the STAR is posted in the office window for the year. Woodruff says the kids are very proud to have their STAR exhibited for all to see.
On the last Friday of each month one student from each class is nominated to have pizza and play Wii with the principal in his office. They’re asked what they did to get there and how they got nominated. It’s a coveted reward. Even the staff get in on the fun. Monthly they nominate each other as Guiding Lights and the winner gets a STAR’s Staff Parking spot for the month.
The committee created a Character Calendar that goes to the parents every month. It has different themes based on the STARS acronym (sharing, trustworthy, etc.), contains the list of that month’s shining STARS, offers reading suggestions for parents and students, promotes and encourages participation to serve in the community by listing volunteer opportunities and connects the school with families. The Character Calendar has received positive feedback from parents and the community, including local legislators.
But two years later, with the program proving successful at school, there were still problems on the school buses. So in 2015, Woodruff and her team applied for the United Against Bullying grant and became one of the award winners. A similar STARS program, catching students ‘Shining Like a Star’, was designed for their school buses to promote good character, with training for the bus drivers on the program and ways to implement it on their buses.
With the help of the grant money the program will be launched in September, 2016, with a bus driver’s appreciation breakfast. The drivers will be asked to hand out a STAR ticket to their bus every day, if the students earn it. A wall mural on the bulletin board is being created with the school bus numbers along the top for students to put their STAR under their school bus number. Each week a number of students from the winning bus will be chosen to receive a prize.
The grade six students came up with the prizes: younger students will get pencils, rubber balls, lanyards, rubber bracelets, etc. with STARS on them; the older students want free homework passes and extra time on recess. The teachers are supportive of the program and gave their approval. The goal is to make the rewards motivating and encouraging for the older grades to participate in the program. The grant money is also funding posters with expectations and information on bullying to be laminated and installed on all the buses – keeping the message forefront and completing the makeover.
“The greatest effect of all from the STARS program is the students themselves,” says Woodruff. The committee is rewarded knowing that these kids are socially and emotionally empowered and the positive ripple effects touch their schools, families, community and futures.
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