AgriLife Extension offers anti-bullying program

By Paul Schattenberg

Texas A&M AgriLife Extension

More than 200 students in kindergarten, first and second grade at Mildred Baskin Elementary School in San Antonio learned how to stand up to bullies and resolve conflicts without fighting through the six-week Take a Stand anti-bullying curriculum.

“The Take a Stand curriculum was developed by Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service 4-H youth development specialists in collaboration with Texas Rural Mediation Services,” said Angel Lawshea, AgriLife Extension youth outreach coordinator, Bexar County. “It was developed as a way to show young people how to resolve conflict without fighting and how to handle a situation if they see someone being bullied.”

At Baskin, the curriculum was presented by AgriLife Extension in collaboration with school teachers and San Antonio Independent School District administration.

“Bullying can take many forms, from physical bullying such as hitting or punching to verbal bullying like teasing or name calling,” Lawshea said. “There’s also nonverbal or emotional bullying, such as intimidating someone through gestures or social exclusion. Also, in today’s society, we are seeing more instances of cyber-bullying through social media.”

According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, more than 3.2 million students in the U.S. are victims of bullying each year, with about 17 percent of students reporting being bullied two or three times a month or more within a school semester.

Lawshea said the Take a Stand curriculum focuses on five main areas: conflict management, communication, etiquette, teamwork and cultural awareness. There is a “power phrase” for each lesson to help students reinforce the core concept of the lesson and handouts are provided. The curriculum also includes fun and interactive activities to help the students practice their conflict management skills.

“For older youth, the lessons focus on concepts such as recognizing the signs of anger, manners, respect for others, understanding another person’s point of view, different ways of looking at a problem, understanding the consequences of violence and working as a team to stop bullying behaviors,” she said. “The lessons have been developed in keeping with the Texas Educational Knowledge and Skills requirements and support classroom education in English, language arts, reading, math, physical education, social studies and more.”

“It’s important students know what bullying is and how to deal with it at an early age,” said Steven Perez, a physical education instructor at Baskin. Perez, who helped implement the Take A Stand program, also coaches at the high school level. He said addressing the issue with younger students can help curb bullying as they get older.

“As children move up in the school system, they need to understand there are better means of resolving a conflict than fighting,” he said. “They need to learn the social and communication skills that can help them avoid getting into a fight.”

School principal Valarie Garcia said students need to tell adults they are being bullied.

“Kids need to speak up so we can stamp out bullying,” she said. “A lot of times bullies know when they can bully other kids and wait until nobody is around. Students who are bullied need to let us know what’s happening so we can take action.”

Garcia also noted children should not be embarrassed or ashamed to let others know they are being bullied.

“Bullying is consistent, so unless we know what’s going on, it will probably persist,” she said.

Laura Barreira, a second-grade teacher at Baskin for 17 years, said students need to learn skills for understanding other people and their differences and try not to be critical or judgmental toward them.

“In some cases it’s just that kids are impulsive or were never taught correct manners for being in public,” she said. “There are even instances where one child is looking at another child and the child takes exception to it. It’s important these kids learn skills for calming down and responding to a situation appropriately.”

Lawshea said the Take a Stand program keeps with the 4-H mission of preparing youth to meet the challenges of childhood, adolescence and adulthood through educational experiences that enhance life skills and help them develop social, emotional, physical and cognitive competencies.

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She said while Take a Stand efforts at Baskin were the first so far in Bexar County, she is working to bring the program to other schools throughout the county.

“We’ll be meeting with other schools and hope to bring the curriculum to students not only at the elementary school level but also to middle school and high school students in Bexar County,” she said.