By Karen Zautyk
Lions and zebras and penguins, oh my! Along with butterflies and ducks and frogs and innumerable other fauna, they have been inhabiting the halls of Lincoln School. But not to worry. The K- 3rd grade students are in no danger. In fact, the creatures were created by the children themselves as a defense against danger – from bullies.
The various arts and crafts projects were part of the annual N.J. Week of Respect, Oct. 1-5, a state-mandated program to combat bullying and harassment and intimidation. And to instill and encourage students’ respect for each other and the world in general.
The theme at Lincoln School was “Don’t Be a Zebra, Be a Lion,” apropos because the school mascot is the Lincoln Lion and because of the beast’s behavior. As Vice Principal Kevin Stahl explained, “If a zebra is attacked, the other zebras in the herd just continue to graze or run the other way.” Lions, however, defend their own. (Which, we wonder, is why a group of them is called a “pride”?)
In dealing with the complex problem of bullying, the lion/ zebra metaphor “was an easy concept for the children to understand,” Stahl noted.
Other catch-phrases employed in the project were: “Don’t Stand By, Stand Up” and “Fill a Bucket,” the latter referencing a popular children’s book of that title, written by Carol McCloud and Katherine Martin. Youngsters are encouraged to fill their “buckets” with a daily good deed or kind word or helping hand for someone else.
“To children, ‘respect’ is a very big word,” said Principal JoAnn Dignazio Botch, who explained that Lincoln School’s projects (involving all 689 pupils) “made it easier for children to understand.”
The various classes chose animals/birds (and butterflies) to represent them and created artwork representative of these. Writing assignments were incorporated into the lessons since the entire program was designed to be inter-disciplinary, Botch said.
Although every school, up to and including high schools, takes part in the Week of Respect, “everyone has their own way to observe it,” she said.
In Harrison, ideas for age-appropriate and developmentally appropriate projects are submitted to the schools superintendent for review and to the Board of Education for approval.
“Our teachers are amazing,” Stahl commented.“They take a theme and enhance it with their projects.”
New Jersey’s anti-bullying law, which encompasses the Week of Respect, is considered the toughest in the nation and was enacted in 2010, partly in response to the suicide of Rutgers student Tyler Clementi.
Harrison, however, has been in the forefront on the growing issue, launching anti-bullying programs well before the state mandated them. The aim has long been “to foster an atmosphere of kindness and well-being” for the children, Botch said.
In advance of the Week of Respect, the Lincoln youngsters also participated in something called International Pinwheels for Peace (a/k/a “Whirled Peace”) on Sept. 21.
Stahl explained that, after receiving an okay from Mayor Raymond McDonough to use the site, 775 pinwheels were “planted” in the shape of a peace symbol at the Harrison Public Library park. On each pinwheel, the children wrote “messages of peace and kindness,” in a communal statement of unity and nonviolence.
The concept was that “your message would fly off the pinwheel and into the world,” Stahl said. It was, he noted, “a really good catalyst” for the Week of Respect and the upcoming national Safe Schools Week.
That program is voluntary, not mandated, and is sponsored by the National School Safety Center, governors and state school superintendents from throughout the U.S. It dates to 1984.
According to the NSSC’s website, www.schoolsafety.us, the “goal in this campaign is to motivate key education and law enforcement policymakers, as well as students, parents and community residents, to vigorously advocate school safety . . . (which) includes keeping campuses free of crime and violence, improving discipline and increasing student attendance.”
America’s Safe Schools Week will be observed Oct. 21-27.