Dr. Melissa W. Varley, the district's assistant superintendent of curriculum and professional development said the entire school system is participating in numerous activities centered around the subjects of kindness and tolerance during Respect Week. She told Patch offerings are being presented at different schools to impact different age groups.
At Mohawk Avenue School, which teaches pre-kindergarten and kindergarten students, Varley said teachers are focusing lessons around a character trait of the month, which for October is respect.
"The students will learn to treat others with respect, follow the Golden Rule, be tolerant of differences and be considerate of the feelings of others," she said.
Among the "respect lessons" is and ongoing initiative that is intended to teach the importance of being helpful to others. The Mohawk School guidance counselor will appoint a "Helping Hand of the Week," in which each class nominates one student per week who has exemplified respectful behavior and has been a “helping hand” to classmates and teachers. At the end of each the title winner will receive a special certificate and have his or her name and picture displayed on a “Helping Hand” bulletin board.Pre-K and kindergarten kids will also get to compete in a Bucket Filler contest, said Varley, who also coordinate's the district's anti-bullying efforts. Each class will receive a bucket and what she called “bucket dollars.” When students are caught filling someone else’s bucket, a dollar will be placed into the vessel. Dollars can be turned into the guidance department for special prizes decided upon by the class. (Everyone in the class gets a prize, she added.)
The first through third graders at Sparta's Throughout this week and month, Alpine Elementary school (Grades 1-3) will be participate in various character education activities throughout the week and month that focus on ways to create a positive school climate in which everyone and everything is treated with care, compassion and respect, Varley said, adding that one goal at the school is to make respect visible.
"Our school will wear yellow on Friday to represent respect," she said. "We also held a school-wide assembly on respect where some of our staff members put on a game show to help the students learn more about
Varley said Alpine School will distribute character certificates to students showing respect during October.
At Helen Morgan Elementary School, which teaches fourth and fifth graders in Sparta, teachers are showing a video from the website Mikayla's Voice that discusses the importance of inclusion. The video will introduce a number of classroom activities that will culminate in a year-long pledge for students to include everyone.
Varley described an interesting exercise to underscore how painful life can be for those who are shunned in or excluded from social interactions.
"Students are bringing in 'misfit socks,'” she said. "There will be a discussion about how socks that can get separated from their match in the laundry [and how that] can represent people who feel alone and separated from others. Putting these socks together as a pair emphasizes the idea that we do not need to be the same to join together in daily activities, conversations and games."
At Sparta Middle School, Varley said a representative of the national kindness initiative Rachel's Challenge will visit on Oct. 15 to empower students by teaching them proactive steps they can take to be kind, compassionate and welcoming to others and to stand up to prevent bullying. The program, which visits schools across the nation, was founded by the family of teen kindness advocate Rachel Scott, the first student killed in the 1999 school shootings at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo.
Respect is the word at Sparta High School as well. Varley said students in grades nine through 12 can see a Sources of Strength bulletin board in a school corridor.
"Students are encouraged to go by the board and see how good it can feel to know that there are people in our community who truly care about each other," she said.
The high schoolers will experience other character education activities as well. Wednesday will feature a Battle of the Bands and a Powder Puff football game. Students will participate in the events and raise money for the prevention of drug and alcohol use. On Friday, Varley said the student-produced Shadows program will perform in the auditorium.
"This is a tribute to what high school students are capable of creating," she said. "This is an incredible depiction of bullying and how to combat its effects."
At all of the schools, Varley said the students are having a great time with Respect Week, which is part of the district's move to comply with state policies mandating education on reducing incidents of harassment, intimidation and bullying.
"I believe that students throughout the district have become more aware of treating one another with respect and kindness as the H.I.B. law progresses," she said. "With the prevalence of social media and technology, we have seen a rise in 'anonymous' cyber-bullying. Now that we are in year three of the H.I.B. law, we are seeing a reduction in reports of bullying and an increase in awareness of what constitutes respectful behavior."