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Houghton students learn anti-bullying techniques

by Chelsea Dill

School psychologist Danae Allison stands in front of a second grade class at Houghton Elementary School. She holds up three cards marked with bully, victim, and bystander. “Bullying is the opposite of respect,” Allison tells the class. She hopes that through her training, which began in October, students will learn to recognize different roles in bullying situations. She teaches them how the role of the bystander can have the most impact in a bullying situation.

Allison has been presenting students with her ongoing anti-bullying program for the past six years. She starts by teaching students the definition of bullying and the three different types of bullying: verbal, physical, and relationship. By reinforcing the lessons, as well as presenting new ideas throughout the school year, students become more aware of bullying and what to do about it if they recognize a situation at school.

“I focus on the bystander in the first lesson due to research that shows that the bystander has the greatest effect on the bullying by either encouraging or discouraging bullying behavior,” she states on her school website. Allison also promotes teaching students the difference between tattling and reporting, as well as the fact that most bullying situations are managed more effectively when recognized and acted upon.

For each type of bullying, Allison presents different scenarios. Students take on different roles, while Allison switches between bully, victim, and bystander roles. She first uses a scenario about two children running to a soccer ball. Allison, along with one of the students, pretend to run in classroom-appropriate slow-motion to an imaginary soccer ball when one of them accidentally falls to the ground. Allison asks students what they should do when someone falls over. “Ask ‘Are you okay?’” says one of the students. Allison nods. Many of her lessons reinforce the need to be aware of others’ well-being. The second scenario involves two children running, but one child purposefully pushes the other, each scenario acted out in a safe classroom environment where no one gets hurt. Allison’s class agrees that this situation is an example of bullying “Bullying is done on purpose,” she says.

Allison’s upbeat personality lightens a heavy subject. She explains each scenario in a way that students understand, while giving them room to make inferences and discover answers on their own. Sometimes students offer stories about how they stood up for someone, to which Allison gives a thumbs up and says, “You rock! You are awesome!” The students connect easily with her and it’s clear that her respect and anti-bullying lessons resonate with students.

In other scenarios Allison involves students taking turns in each role: bully, bystander, and victim. Techniques like distracting the bully, ignoring, or helping the victim leave the scene, are ways she presents to help deal with bullies.

“Are bullies bad people?” she asks the class. “I believe that every child is good. Bullies make bad decisions and bad choices. Bullies are not bad people.”

Allison’s learning-by-doing situations make her lessons relevant to the students’ lives, including scenarios that take place on the school bus or playground. She emphasizes how victims feel in the bullying situation and encourages bystanders to take an active role in the victim’s well-being.

One important aspect of Allison’s teachings is helping the students recognize the difference between tattling versus reporting. She shows students a card listing certain rules that makes it okay to tell the teacher or when it is “NBD” – no big deal. Some of the situations that require adult intervention, or reporting, are if someone is injured, upset, or if something has been broken or damaged.

“As a school psychologist, my goal is to be kind, and to get kids to be kind to each other,” she says. “By doing respect and anti-bullying training, I can give them tools to help empower them, so they’ll know what to do in those situations, whether they’re seeing it happen or if it’s happening to them, and give them options of what they can do.”

While not bullied as a child, Allison sometimes felt intimidated about standing up directly to bullies. “I didn’t always stand up because it was scary and I would try to do things afterwards, like befriend the victim or help them. But it’s really hard to stand up to a bully, so I’m hoping that I can give students skills and tools to do that.”

Photo by Chelsea Dill: Danae Allison teaches Houghton students how to deal with bullying situations.