Anti-Bullying, Peace and Building Character, Part 1

By Victoria Jasztal on September 16, 2009
  • Grades: PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5, 6–8, 9–12

This week's second post revolves around two things: implementing both Pinwheels for Peace as well as the Olweus anti-bullying program in my classroom this year.

Pinwheels for Peace is a project where students all over the nation are designing pinwheels to display in front of their schools on Monday, September 21. This project was started because, according to the website, violence has become commonplace and accepted as part of our society. Everyday, we are bombarded with television images, video games, music and magazine articles/newspapers that give importance to conflict and war. Our school will be participating, and the design you see at the beginning of this post is one of the designs that will be coming from our class. The designs for the pinwheels were just started in our art elective today, so I will be able to post pictures of the completed pinwheels next week. 

If you want to read on how to make pinwheels with your class, click here.

Anti-Bullying Movement/Building Your Students' Character

The second part of this post is dedicated to our school's anti-bullying movement and the beginning of a chapter book I began working on this past year. The Olweus program is being implemented in our school this year, which you can read about here. We are being encouraged to discuss bullying in our classrooms and encourage our students to accept one another for who they are. In light of this new program, I am going to introduce the chapter book I wrote this past year to my students that addresses bullying and believing in the power of second chances.

The entire book is about 150 pages long and is about a boy named Ryan who had a disagreement with his ex-best friend Seth back in second grade. Two "bullies", Patrick and Dillon, rampaged on the playground and knocked Seth off his swing, breaking his glasses. They then turned to Ryan and asked if he would continue hanging out with Seth. Ryan is afraid and turns away from Seth. Two years later, in fourth grade, they are about to have class together once more. One day, Ryan has the worst day- and makes a wish to repeat the day. His wish comes true, yet he then realizes that he cannot move on to the next day until he is fair and kind to Seth once again. The premise is kind of like the movie Groundhog Day with Bill Murray, but it is also very different with a series of interesting twists.

My reflection about my novel:

Writing this novel was a challenge. I studied the behaviors and words of “tweens” for quite some time to pinpoint the direction I wanted to take with this book. I thought about how I felt about certain things that happened when I was in elementary school, the hurtful words people said and how people interpreted those words. I thought about friendships and how everyone needs a friend who believes they rock, no matter what. No matter how “out there” they seem. Everyone is important and amazing in some way, shape, or form.

Growing up is hard. It certainly was for me, anyhow. I was not well-liked for some reason. It still hurts as an adult at times. Sometimes people feel they have to say the right words, wear the right clothes, or like the right things. Yet honestly, what is “right”? People have always wondered. Or are there different types of “rights” and people just don’t realize it?

When I wrote this book, I wanted to come up with believable characters. I tell my students all the time that so much has to go into “forming” a character.

I chose some names of people I knew or names I just liked in general. Or I thought really hard and tried to put a name with the “face” I saw in my mind. When I thought of someone brilliant, above his peers, and mindful, I thought of the name “Seth”. “Dillon” was a name I chose for character who turned out to have a lot of personality, someone with broad interests.

I had to create antagonists (people who are against the main character) and also those types of characters who the reader does not like at the beginning of the story, but connects with by the end. Patrick, of course, is the antagonist. Authors sometimes to create characters that do not change at all or change just slightly. Dillon is the character who changes a great deal, yet I made how and why he changes very unpredictable until a certain point in the story. Ryan also changes, but mainly because of the “second chance” he was given.

Why didn’t I make this a straight-through realistic fiction story? Why did I add that streak of fantasy? I had to add that bit because it gets the reader to think about how things can change a great deal if you think things through- the words you say and your actions.

The prologue of my novel:

It was a typical Thursday at Wadesboro Elementary School, so typical that it blended into every other day I had ever spent at school. Mrs. Wilkins was my second-grade teacher, and she was always really considerate to us, no matter how traumatic a situation we caused. However, things would change completely that day, particularly between my best friend Seth Morgan and me.

Seth was not the typical second grade boy. He had dark brown hair and thick glasses. He was also a lot smaller than the rest of the boys in our class. It seemed as if every boy towered at least a foot over him. His voice was also very high and possessed a nasal quality. Yet what made him stand out even more was that he was a complete brainiac for his age, reading on at least a fifth grade level. While everyone toiled through Horrible Harry and Time Warp Trio books, he would sit and read books way beyond his age. His favorite of all was Johnny Tremain. He could multiply and divide really well, and he was fascinated with science. When he grew up, he wanted to become a crypto zoologist, while I was completely fascinated at the time with becoming a race car driver. Yet even though Seth and I seemed incredibly different, we possessed a lot of similarities. We met through our fathers before kindergarten because they both worked in carpentry. They got around to talking when my dad mentioned that I was already reading,  and Seth’s dad chuckled, mentioning that he had been reading just before he turned four. We then met of course, and the rest was history.

However on that fateful Thursday, we were on the swings, discussing the rules of chess. Seth enjoyed playing with his father, and I appreciated a lot of what he did, even though I was not as brilliant. All of a sudden, Dillon Randall and Patrick Delmar came marching up to us.  Patrick grabbed at Seth’s glasses and vengefully snapped them in half. Dillon then followed Patrick and knocked Seth out of the swing with great force. Seth began bawling his eyes out, and the two boys persisted even more. I just sat there, appalled on the inside but not displaying much emotion on the outside. I was speechless. Suddenly Dillon swung on his heels and blurted out to me, “Are you actually going to keep hanging out with this dork?”

My mouth was as dry as the Sahara Desert, and if they would have poked me in any way, I probably would have bawled my eyes out. Seth’s eyes were brimming with tears, glancing pleadingly in my direction. He may have been thinking, Please, set them straight, yet I was numb from head to toe. I did not want to be in Seth’s predicament and a crowd began surrounding us (as well as Mrs. Wilkins), so I blurted out the first thing my preposterous mind told me to say- “No, Dillon. I am not going to be his friend anymore.”

It was like Pandora’s Box had opened at that moment. Seth was devastated with his mouth hanging open. His lip with quivering and he began shaking from head to toe. I was even more devastated that I betrayed him. Yet I could never take that moment back; I had to move on. Dillon and Patrick were beaming with delight that I had caused harm to my best friend. A few particularly mean kids, one named Jordan and another named Brent, began clapping. Seth then ran for his life.

Mrs. Wilkins broke up the fight and hauled the two instigators down to the front office on their heels. Seth was escorted by a girl named Emily to the guidance office. She was a kind, quiet spirit who cared about everyone in her class. She consoled him while I sat in the swing like a complete fool. An extremely introverted boy named Jonathan than looked at me and snarled, “Good going. You hurt your best friend.” He then disappeared when another second grade teacher, Ms. Morrow, gathered our class to bring us inside. I followed reluctantly, struck, eventually out to become sort of an outcast.

The thing was, we boys had so much to hide. I really wanted to tell Seth that I was sorry, but over time, that desire faded. Dillon was also really intelligent, though he never wanted to admit it to everybody. He had seemed fine up until that point, back in kindergarten and first grade. Patrick was the instigator of all, very harsh and controlling of all his friends. Nobody wanted to have him on their bad side, though perhaps Patrick also had something to hide.

It would be almost by fate that this entire crowd reunited for fourth grade. Our somewhat unfortunate teacher, Mrs. Farley, had Seth, Dillon, Patrick, Emily, Jonathan, Jordan, and myself on her roster. I am sure she was half mortified at first and asking the front office to remove at least one of the two bullies from her class. Yet everything progressed, and at Open House, I was staring at Mrs. Farley’s fourth grade class list including all our names.


I am very excited I have been able to provide you with "Food for Thought" in two areas this week. Hopefully everything has been going well so far this year- if you have any questions or thoughts about anything I have posted, please do not hesitate to ask.

Comments

I will include more in the near future, Jeremy and Patty. Thanks for the encouragement! What is your school doing in particular to "combat" bullying, Jeremy? Anything that has worked really well in its implementation?

Hi Victoria,

Nice post! Our school has been working to be proactive about bullying. During recess the monitors record any issues in a log. It's a great way to track any ongoing issues or notice patterns.

Keep up the good work.

Best, Jeremy

You are to be nationally commended for your efforts, Victoria!

... Hi, Patty! I hope this message reaches a lot of teachers so they know how important it is to watch for signs of bullying in their classrooms. I read the prologue to my students Thursday, and then asked them to make text-to-self and text-to-world connections afterward. They then questioned the author (me)- they asked why I chose the specific characters and also if the event related to anyone or any situation I knew from my life. It was interesting hearing their thoughts about the beginning of my story. - Victoria

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