July 12, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Bullying Prevention in the Day Schools

Since October was National Bullying Prevention Month, the Jewish Link spoke to a number of local schools about how they deal with bullying—which involves an intent to cause harm—and conflict—a struggle between people with incompatible goals.

Pre-emptive Programming

The schools have various programs and curriculums to emphasize conflict resolution and standing up for one’s self. In addition, there is great emphasis on positive midot and appreciation for differences.

Rebecca Mischel, school psychologist at Ben Porat Yosef, noted that while bullying is a rarity at the school, conflicts do indeed come up. Conflict resolution begins at the very beginning of preschool as language is modeled for toddlers. By nursery they begin to use the language themselves. Mischel gives two mini-lessons per year to each class. The lessons focus on how to deal with conflict in a positive way and are based on the win-win conflict resolution which was created by the New Jersey Bar Association. It begins with an “I” message. Mischel explains, “A student says, ‘I felt x when you did y.’ The other student repeats so he or she feels heard. It needs to be done with the right tone and attitude.” Teachers have been trained in this method as well and are able to mediate, as are Mischel and staff. However, students are encouraged to handle conflicts themselves first.

Dr. Tani Foger was a school psychologist in New York City public schools prior to becoming Principal of Yeshivat He’Atid. Dr. Foger believes in a multistep approach when it comes to conflicts. Any issues that come up are taken seriously, said Dr. Foger, because, “We want children to come to school happy.” There’s an emphasis on children empowering themselves and developing a thick skin, so they won’t be targeted a second time.

The school has a number of ways of combating these conflicts. One way is through the Don’t Laugh at Me curriculum. This teaches children how to identify positive and negative behavior through games, activities and stories. The school is also rolling out a new program, Random Acts of Kindness, which is designed to teach Torah values. Dr. Foger said, “We want to catch students acting kind. We want to teach the positive and highlight how we want them to behave.” These acts are noted over the loudspeaker and families are notified. Dr. Foger believes it’s the job of teachers and administrators to help those whose feelings were hurt. She adds, “Students can play a role as well. If a student hears something not nice, they can step up because if one person intervenes then it will stop.” Dr. Foger brings in the student who was causing the trouble and asks him or her to identify how the other person felt by pointing to the appropriate feeling on a feelings chart. She does this to help the child identify their actions and what they caused. The goal is to create empathy, so they won’t go down same path.

Yael Krumerman, a school psychologist at the Moriah School, notes that they try to be proactive. “We don’t wait for something to happen. We make students aware of the support system and teach them strategies to support themselves and their friends.” One way of doing this is through a program developed by Krumerman and Ellen Zeitchik called Conversations. “Students need to have a platform in which they feel comfortable to raise concerns and explore age-appropriate social challenges,” said Krumerman. The Conversations program takes place in every classroom once a week and is run by the teachers. Topics include feelings, friendship, conflict resolution, respect, cooperation, resilience and bullying. Each session includes associated activities as well as discussion and related reading materials. The school also has a number of programs designed to foster unity and respect amongst its students including lunch bunches, social skills groups and a buddy program between 5th graders and kindergartners.

Middle School and Beyond

Middle school has been identified as a particularly challenging time, especially for girls. Therefore, BPY is hosting author Trish Ottaviano, the founder of Sister Soldier—Stand Up For Each Other. The non-for-profit organization brings healing and awareness to the harmful effects of bullying among girls. Sister Soldier’s goal is to empower girls with kindness, self-love and self-confidence, ultimately changing the way they view themselves and view each other.

The Frisch School strives to develop a culture of kindness and understanding. In fact, Principal Rabbi Eli Ciner says it’s one of the school’s core values. “We feel this does the most work to ensure that bullying never becomes an issue.” The culture of kindness is instilled through chesed days where students participate in various charitable acts. Students also work with Yachad and The Friendship Circle. The goal is to inculcate compassion for others. Rabbi Ciner added that a new anti-bullying club was formed to help students better understand and recognize the different forms that bullying might take.

The local schools are on the right track: According to stopbullying.gov, studies have shown that bullying can be prevented by keeping the lines of communication open, encouraging children to do what they love, modeling kindness and respect, and encouraging children to get help when they are involved in bullying or know others who need help. Visit stopbullying.gov for more information.

Larry and his family are Bergen County residents. Larry is a freelance writer and educator. To read more of his work or learn about his writing services, visit http://larrydbernstein.com.

By Larry Bernstein

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