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Schools try to reduce bullying with kindness programs


All kinds of kindness happened in Cumberland County’s public schools in October.

The system’s elementary, middle and high schools totted up nearly 140,000 separate acts of kindness.

Who’s counting? They were, as part of an initiative aimed at combating bullying behavior. For National Bullying Prevention Month, the school system chose to focus on encouraging acts of kindness instead of discussing bullying and promoting the usual anti-bullying programs.

Kristy Curran, the school system’s counselor coordinator, said the goal was to reach at least 100,000 acts of kindness for the month. To her delight, the actual number was much higher – 139,936. The schools at each level that recorded the largest number of kind acts were to be recognized.

Curran said she doesn’t yet have quantitative data on how well the program worked but hopes to get it. Meanwhile, she’s a fan of the theory that promotes encouraging and reinforcing kindness in children. She said the school system’s counselors have been urged to continue teaching “replacement positive behavior” to children who have engaged in bullying.

“Over the years, it has been realized that the typical ‘anti-bullying’ curriculum is less effective,” the school system said in a release about its kindness initiative, “and the desire was to bring in a positive self-promoting curriculum to replace it.”

Curran collaborated with Jenny Haigler, director of the Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA) Grants Project, and with the Anti-Bullying Task Force to create a new anti-bullying curriculum and awareness program that supplies materials and presentations to promote and reinforce kindness.

In its release, the school system referred to Lisa Currie, founder of the Ripple Kindness Project. According to Currie, the release said, “scientific studies have shown that kindness has a great number of physical and emotional benefits and that children require a healthy dose of ‘warm fuzzies’ in order to flourish as healthy, happy well-rounded individuals. Based on that information and further research, a collaborative effort was formed in the CCS to promote social emotional development amongst CCS’ students. It is the hope that this development will counteract any potential for making a choice to bully.”

Curran said she was originally motivated to focus on promoting kindness over traditional anti-bullying campaigns after she met last year with Norma Dupe, the guidance counselor at Manchester Elementary School in Spring Lake.

Dupe told Curran that she teaches “replacement positive behavior” – acts of kindness – to children who have engaged in bullying rather than putting them through typical anti-bullying programs which focus on why bullying is wrong.

“I immediately fell in love with that idea and hoped it could help defeat the stigma ‘bullying’ is becoming,” Curran said in an email.

Curran introduced the idea to an Anti-Bullying Task Force which she chairs and proposed that the school system change its bullying curriculum to focus on a pro-active approach like kindness or social-emotional learning.

“So rather than our students hearing and talking about bullying all month, they talked about examples of kindness, what kindness is, why is it important, how does it make you feel, etc.,” Curran said.

Overall, there are two ways this social-emotional programming is taking place, Curran said. Seventeen of the school system’s DoDEA Grant-related schools are using grant money provided to help lower discipline referrals as well as increase peer support and individual sessions through transition consultants.

And two kindness programs were used to introduce the aspect of kindness and the development of social-emotional learning. Nine middle schools – Douglas Byrd, Ireland Drive, Westover, Hope Mills, Max Abbott, South View, Lewis Chapel, Spring Lake and Pine Forest –were introduced to Brian Williams, the founder of the Think Kindness program. The students got an hour-long presentation on “what it means to be kind” and were challenged to complete a school-wide kindness project, e.g., a shoe drive, a jean drive, or completing 5,000 random acts of kindness in 15 days, etc. Additionally, a “Kindness Crew” will be created at the nine middle schools to continue the kindness movement throughout the year.

Meanwhile, eight high schools – Douglas Byrd, Jack Britt, Seventy-First, South View, Pine Forest, Westover, E.E. Smith and Terry Sanford – were introduced to Rachel’s Challenge, a program that was created to honor the memory and legacy of Rachel Scott, the first Columbine High School shooting victim. This program allowed the high school students to hear a presentation that challenged them to live life in five different ways –look for the best in others; dream big; choose positive influences; speak with kindness; and/or start your own chain reaction. Also, a “Friends of Rachel” Club will be created at the eight high schools to continue the movement throughout the year.

This change in culture has tasked counselors at all schools to provide classroom guidance lessons around the areas of kindness and compassion. Elementary schools were provided kindness journals, while secondary schools received “I completed …” and “I witnessed …” Kindness Slips.

Kindness organizers hope to see a decrease in bullying claims and discipline referrals as well as a difference in overall student interaction this school year.