At school, talk isn't cheap

Communication: At Ellicott Mills Middle School, pupils are taught to use words that are respectful, encouraging and supportive of one another.

Education Beat

News from Howard County schools and colleges

April 17, 2005|By Tawanda W. Johnson | Tawanda W. Johnson,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Words have the power to do many things.

At Ellicott Mills Middle School in Ellicott City, Principal Michael Goins wants to make sure they don't hurt anyone.

Goins instituted a "no put-down" policy two years ago, the goal of which is to teach pupils to use words that are respectful, encouraging and supportive of one another.

"The main point of this is that we are one school, one community. We believe words make our world," he said. "We can deliberately choose words that encourage, engage or enrich people lives."

To drive those points home, Goins instructs his pupils at the beginning of each school year, using a lesson that involves defining put-downs. The pupils are encouraged to get involved, and Goins said they have no problem noting examples of ways people hurt one another with bad words.

"We talk about comments people make about someone's clothes, hair, or their ethnic and religious backgrounds," said Goins.

The pupils also make posters that list examples of put- downs and then cover them up with cutouts of footprints that have positive words written on them.

"They are stamping out the bad language," he said. The posters are hung throughout the school as a reminder of how everyone should behave. Goins also makes a weekly pitch to the pupils via the school's TV program.

"I've used everything from `Dear Abby' to things happening around the world, including the tsunami tragedy, to show that we're all in a global community together and should support one another," he said.

Goins said he decided to implement the policy at Ellicott Mills after starting a similar one as a health teacher years earlier. As a principal, he said he has seen his share of pupil disputes.

"I kept seeing situations where kids were being hostile toward each other," he recalled.

Since the policy took effect at Ellicott Mills, he said pupils are kinder and that the school is now an environment where put-downs are not tolerated.

"I've told them to feel free to come see me if they feel an injustice has been done," he said.

Alison Lamana, an eighth-grader, said the "no put-down" policy has improved her relationships with other pupils.

"It's helped me to meet new friends and to act nice," she said.

Alison added that she has experienced being put down and has "probably" engaged in putting others down. But she said she is a better person now, and she has learned the importance of word choice.

"When I feel I have to say something mean, I don't do it, and I've learned to ignore [mean things other people say]," she said.

Added John Lee, a seventh-grader, "It's [the policy] taught us how to work as a community. The sixth-graders look up to us, and we teach them to be better by showing them what to do and what not to do."

School counselor Karl Friedheim said the "no put- down" policy has two main points: consistency and positiveness.

"When Mr. Goins is on [the school's] TV, he's consistent with speaking to the school about something that's positive. It's a gentle reminder [that kids should be using nice words when communicating]."

The message is apparently getting through, he added.

"Although nothing is 100 percent, I see kids reminding each other to remember what Mr. Goins said," Friedheim said.

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