Anti-bullying message delivered - like magic

At Hollifield Station Elementary, children learn an important lesson and have fun at the same time

September 10, 2006|By Karen Nitkin | Karen Nitkin,special to the sun

As fourth-grader Amanze Udeibiuwa waved a magic wand, Chris "Doc" Dixon promised to turn three scarves into an American flag.

But Dixon, who was at Hollifield Station Elementary School on Friday morning to present a program called the Bully-Free Amazing Wonder Show, dropped the blue scarf.

The flag that he created was only red and white.

"A few times in this program, I will make a silly mistake," said Dixon, who does about 250 such shows a year. "I do it to make a point."

In this case, the point was about including people. "You mess up the flag when you leave out the color blue," Dixon told the third-, fourth- and fifth-graders sitting on the cafeteria floor. "You mess up your school when you leave out other kids."

Then he created a flag with all three colors. "You know what you get when a bunch of bullies get together? You get a clique," he said. "It's bullying, and it's mean."

The program, which was presented to pupils in kindergarten through second grade later in the morning, was part of a comprehensive anti-bullying program at Hollifield Station, said Susan Castelbaum, the school's guidance counselor.

Under a county directive, all schools must address the issue, she said, but the specifics are up to each school. At Hollifield Station in Ellicott City, pupils were asked to read and sign an anti-bullying policy that explained in detail what bullying is and how it can be prevented.

"Bullying is not the same thing as a disagreement between two people," notes the policy. To be considered bullying, it must be intentional, there must be an imbalance of power, and it must be continual, it said.

The school also held a parent workshop on bullying Tuesday evening.

Programs such as the Bully-Free Amazing Wonder Show, funded by the PTA, make the message fun, so it is more likely to stick with kids, she said.

On Friday, the children reacted with enthusiasm - though politely - as Dixon combined magic tricks, optical illusions and lessons about bullying. Throughout the 45-minute show, Dixon often reminded the pupils to stay quiet and sit up straight.

Dixon, who is from Smithton, Pa., near Pittsburgh, told his audience that bullying goes well beyond the television and movie image of a large boy picking on a smaller boy. Girls and little kids can be bullies, too, he said.

"Somebody's being a bully when they hurt somebody," he said. "You call somebody a mean name or start a mean story, that can definitely hurt their feelings."

And he noted that bullying can take place on the Internet. Castelbaum confirmed that cases of cyber-bullying are taking place among fourth- and fifth-graders at Hollifield. It is easier to say mean things about somebody when you aren't looking right at them, she said.

Bullying also happens on the school bus, she said, and that is why bus drivers also have received anti-bully training. Because Hollifield has a highly diverse student body, some kids tease each other about the food they bring for lunch, she said.

Still, Castelbaum said, the problem at Hollifield is not severe and the program is aimed more at making everyone aware of the issue than at stopping specific actions. The goal at Hollifield, she said, is to turn the youngsters into "active bystanders" who will tell others to stop bullying, that it is not cool.

In another trick designed to make a point, Dixon asked third-grader Carley Preisinger to rip up pieces of tissue paper, then promised he would put them back together. "For this trick to work," he said. "It's not enough for these pieces to be next to each other. They've got to stick together."

With a wave of his hand, and a little help from Carley, he created a multicolored hat for her. The pupils applauded.

Dixon boiled down his anti-bullying advice to four nuggets, creating the acronym STAR. The first is to stick together. The second is tell the bully to stop. The third is to alert an adult and the fourth is to respect others and be a friend.

Don't respond to bullying with more bullying, Dixon said, and don't be afraid of being labeled a tattletale.

"If your neighbor's house was burning," he said, "and you told the fire department, would you be a tattletale? No. You'd be a hero."

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