Student education is key to Battle Ground’s bullying prevention efforts

Melanie Walter leads Captain Strong Primary third graders in a bullying prevention lessonWhen Captain Strong Primary School health and fitness teacher Melanie Walter asked her class how to be assertive and stand up to bullying behavior, third grader Joseph knew exactly what he’d do. “Stand up straight, make good eye contact, and speak clearly and firmly without yelling,” Joseph said. “Make sure they know that being a bully is mean and it’s not ok.”

While this level of emotional maturity is surprising coming from an 8-year-old, it’s also an indication that Battle Ground Public Schools’ emphasis on social-emotional health and bullying prevention program is taking hold in the classroom.

October is National Bullying Prevention Month, and Battle Ground Public Schools knows that it’s important to teach these valuable lessons year-round. That’s why teachers and staff at the district’s seven primary schools are now in their second year of using the Social Emotional Learning program Character Strong (formally Second Step) .

Character Strong includes lessons such as skills for learning empathy, emotion management, problem solving, and friendship skills that are taught in general education classrooms. It also includes a bullying prevention unit that instructs all primary school students how to “recognize, report and refuse” bullying behaviors, and how students can be bystanders who help stop bullying.

“Character Strong (Second Step) is rooted in social-emotional learning that seeks to transform schools into supportive, successful learning environments,” said Sandy Mathewson, the district’s Director of Social-Emotional Learning and Counseling Services.

Character Strong is a part of BGPS’ plan to prevent and reduce bullying. The spectrum of prevention includes training leadership and all staff in bullying prevention, building positive school climates, teaching foundational social-emotional skills, having clear anti-bullying procedures in place, teaching students specific bullying prevention skills, and engaging families so they know what we’re doing and what they can do to support our efforts.

Captain Strong Primary School third graders hold up the anti-bullying bookmarks

Our district’s Character Strong Bullying Prevention program provides five lessons for each grade, kindergarten through fourth grade. While each grade has its own area of emphasis, all Second Step materials include the same basic principles. For starters, each lesson plan establishes class rules, like how to be respectful learners. Once class rules are established, students learn how to recognize what is and is not bullying behavior, how to properly report bullying to a teacher or other responsible adult, and how they can act as bystanders to stop bullying behaviors.

In addition to the Character Strong program being taught by school counselors and classroom teachers, primary schools have also integrated regular bullying prevention lessons into health and fitness classes.
“Social-emotional health is already a core element being taught in our health and fitness classes,” said Mike Michaud, Battle Ground schools’ Director of Instructional Leadership for early childhood and primary schools. “The bullying prevention lessons are a natural extension of this core element, and health and fitness classes provide a fun, engaging, and active environment where the point of the lessons is really driven home.”

“Helping to equip children with the skills and abilities to prevent and overcome bullying behaviors at school will empower kids and enable them to thrive,” Mathewson said. “This is yet another example of how individual schools support and implement Battle Ground Public Schools’ focus on social-emotional learning.”