Graner: Teens Promoting Respect

As every teacher knows, maintaining a positive school climate is essential to good teaching and learning. For students to achieve at the highest level possible, schools must be safe and orderly, and members of the school community must show respect for each other. In Ledyard schools, the faculty and administration facilitate positive school climates on a daily basis by modeling respectful behavior and setting clear expectations for student conduct.

In recent workshops conducted at Ledyard Center School (LCS), an interdistrict high school youth leadership program helped several classes at LCS focus on positive behavior and helped students develop strategies to prevent bullying and other forms of inappropriate behavior.

The high school students are members of the group named More Than Words (MTW). The group began five years ago in response to racial and ethnic concerns at both New London and Ledyard High School. Administrators from both schools met to develop a program that would engage students in regular workshops to help prevent confrontations and to respond when racial or ethnic issues arose. The group consists of New London H.S. students, tribal students attending Ledyard H.S., as well as non-tribal Ledyard students; a total of 40 students are involved.

In workshops conducted every six weeks, the students learn communication skills, conflict resolution strategies and methods to promote respect. At a high school workshop in February, several students recommended sharing the strategies with elementary school students. The LCS Principal, Mr. Greg Keith, learned that the high school students were willing to share their advice, and he invited the MTW students to the school.

Recently MTW students led workshops in each class at LCS in grades 4 to 6. The classes participated in a student-designed activity that had all the children sit in a large circle and each child stated one thing that made them happy and one thing that hurt their feelings. The students then passed a ball of yarn to another student on the opposite side of the circle. After every child spoke, the yarn looked like a big spider web. The student leaders then led a discussion that focused on the spider web which showed we are all connected by similar likes and similar actions that hurt our feelings.

The final aspect of the workshop was a poster exercise that engaged the students in an art project designed to align with the school's "race car" theme. Mr. Keith explained to the MTW students that the school climate goal is embodied by the acronym, R.A.C.E. (R- respect, A - acceptance, C - cooperation, and E - effort). Students drew pictures, wrote poems and annotated posters to illustrate one aspect of the theme. Once the posters were completed, each small group presented the poster to the whole class.

Following the workshops, Mr. Keith received so many positive comments about the program from the elementary school students and their teachers that he invited the group to return next year and conduct another series of workshops.

Achieving the goal of safe, orderly and respectful schools is a challenge at times, but thanks to the good work of many members of our school community, including high school students, Ledyard schools are safe, inviting places for all children to learn.

MICHAEL H. GRANER, PH.D., IS THE SUPERINTENDENT OF SCHOOLS IN LEDYARD.

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