EDITOR'S NOTE: In honor of upcoming National Bullying Prevention Month, the Globe will speak with different USD 443 faculty members about bullying for a series on the topic. In the first installment of the series, the Globe covers a session on bullying hosted at Wilroads Garden Elementary, where students learn about 'Bullying Behavior'.
Principal Bennie Wiley-Bethea stands before a fourth grade class Tuesday afternoon at Wilroads Garden Elementary School as she flashes labels that read different things.
A label reading 'chair' is taped to the back of a chair, a label reading 'paper' is taped to a paper, a label reading 'desk' is taped to a desk. But then...Mrs. Wiley-Bethea pulls out labels with different kinds of words written upon them. Words like: rude, disrespectful, evil, nasty, mean, and hateful.
Following each label she asks the students, "Is that what's inside a person?"
To almost every label the students shouted out a mixture of answers including: "yes!", "maybe!", or "no!".
The last label Mrs. Wiley-Bethea pulled out read: BULLY.
"Is that what's inside a person?" the Principal asked.
"Yes!", almost every student agreed.
Mrs. Wiley-Bethea explained, "This label is a big one because we label people with this one all the time...Bully is a person who teases or threatens...Is that actually what is inside of a person?" she asked.
Giving the students something to think about, Mrs. Wiley-Bethea asked the students to take two minutes to discuss with their shoulder-partner what it means when they label someone.
"When we label people what are we actually labeling?"
After the students took the time to discuss amongst one another, one group was called on and a student answered, "When we label people, we're labeling their character".
"She's on the verge of something," Mrs. Wiley-Bethea said. "Maybe when we're labeling we're labeling our behaviors?...I want you to really think about that."
"Are we labeling behaviors because we are labeling what we see a person do?"
"Are we seeing them be mean?"
"Are we seeing them be nasty?"
"Are we seeing them be a bully?"
The elementary principal, full of enthusiasm, explained to her students that when they are labeling someone based on their actions, they are labeling behaviors. But behaviors can change.
How to handle 'Bullying Behavior'
"If behavior can change, is that really what is inside of a person?" Mrs. Wiley-Bethea asked the fourth grade students. "Do you think that's actually what's inside of a person or maybe they're just acting out because they're angry or sad or sometimes it's because they've been hurt; When people are hurt, they hurt others."
Page 2 of 2 - Mrs. Wiley-Bethea advises her students that they don't necessarily have to tolerate bully behavior but instead, give others the courage to change their behavior.
"If you tell a person how bad or horrible they are and they hear that over and over and nobody tries to support them or show them a different way, couldn't they become those labels?" She asked. "Yes," the students answered.
"People are not created to be those labels...but they eventually can become them," she said.
Mrs. Wiley-Bethea teaches her students that just because someone exhibits bullying behavior, it doesn't mean they have to be 'stuck there'.
"Are we going to have kids that act like this? Yes. Are we going to get angry? Yes. We can say: I will get mad at you but I will NOT hurt you." She said.
Different ways to bully
Mrs. Wiley-Bethea makes sure to point out that bullying is something that can take place in many ways, shapes and forms.
The different ways include: electronic, verbal, written, aggressive person contact, intimidating body language or gestures, invading a person's person space, spreading rumors, and intentional exclusions.
"Hopefully when we see these things going on in our school we don't join in but instead we can be supportive in helping someone change their behavior." Mrs. Wiley-Bethea said.
"Labels are for things, not people. Do not label a person." Mrs. Wiley-Bethea reminds her students. "Do you believe there could be a school where everyone could get along and be nice to each other and encourage each other? Because you know what? Mrs. Wiley-Bethea believes that, if I didn't, I wouldn't be here."
Next week Wilroads Elementary will working on being a 'bucket filler', valuing people and each other. Principal Wiley-Bethea noted that a 30-minute lecture is done with different grades once a week, throughout the year.
Coming next: Daily Globe visits with Brenda Morgison at Beeson Elementary.