To stick, anti-bullying lessons must be imparted early and often, principals says | March 22, 2013 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - March 22, 2013

To stick, anti-bullying lessons must be imparted early and often, principals says

Fairmeadow's 'Steps to Respect' is one of many programs in local schools

by Chris Kenrick

There are no quick fixes when it comes to kids and bullying.

As part of a push to train children early and often, students at Fairmeadow Elementary School this week showed off their hand-made anti-bullying posters in the school's multi-purpose room.

"You can always do something and don't let bullying happen," wrote a fifth grader.

"It's not cool. Stand up to bullies and always be assertive."

Accompanied by a stick-figure drawing of a child saying, "Stop," a kindergartner wrote: "If you get bullied you shod tel the techer."

Principal Gary Prehn, who has led elementary schools for 22 years, said the social climate of any school palpably and measurably improves when anti-bullying lessons are embedded in the curriculum and revisited on a regular basis.

"When everyone is working on it, it's like the anxiety or the angst of many kids drops and there's a sense of calm," Prehn said.

"I certainly see it here. It's drastically reduced the number of kids we deal with after recess or lunchtime."

Newer, proactive anti-bullying efforts work better than traditional approaches that treat bullying as a behavior problem, he said.

The newer curricula teach empathy, not just for the bullied child but also for the bully — and encourage other children to become "upstanders" against bullying rather bystanders.

It works better than the older model of having children "talk out" their differences, which was problematic because of an imbalance of power between bully and victim said Sigrid Pinsky, a Fairmeadow parent and PTA leader involved with the program.

Fairmeadow's curriculum of choice is "Steps to Respect" — one of a variety of "social kindness" programs used in Palo Alto's 12 elementary schools.

Fairmeadow's program includes a definition of bullying, which appears on bright yellow, laminated cards attached to "Bullying Report Form" clipboards.

"Bullying is repeatedly hurting, frightening, threatening or leaving someone out on purpose," the cards say. "Bullying always involves a power imbalance."

The yellow cards include detailed instructions for teachers or playground helpers on how to report incidents, including what happened, date, time and names of the bullied, bullies and bystanders.

Asked whether all 12 Palo Alto elementary schools should use the same anti-bullying curriculum so children learn common terms for use in later grades, Prehn said he prefers that each school community adopt the program it thinks is best.

"Whatever you're doing, the concepts are essentially the same in many of these programs," he said.

Back in the multi-purpose room, Fairmeadow students explained their posters on display.

"Mine says, 'I stand up for people getting bullied,' said Armani, a fifth-grader. "That means if someone's being bullied I walk up to that person and say its not right and they should stop.

"All they're doing is hurting other people and they won't end up having any friends."

Across the room, a recipe for "Respect Lasagna" by a second-grader named Emma was posted on the wall. The "recipe for respect" included "one scoop of hugs, a sprinkle of non-arrogance, two cups friendship, a dash of apology, five tablespoons of respectful words, two teaspoons of honesty, a half-cup of smiles and a quarter cup of attention."

Staff Writer Chris Kenrick can be emailed at


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