The second graders are Lippitt Elementary School have been getting a healthy dose of anti-bullying curriculum from two high school seniors.
Pilgrim’s Mikaela Boucher and Allyson Ancona have been visiting the school for the past nine weeks, meeting with each of the two second grade classrooms for a half hour. Their lessons are part of volunteer requirements for their community service class, a yearlong course they elected to take.
“Everyone else was helping with math, which is great,” said Allyson Ancona. “So we thought this was more worthwhile.”
Last week, the pair stood at the head of Lorraine Gagnon’s class, asking questions to the 15 students. Ancona chose students to tell what being bullied made them feel like. Boucher transcribed their answers, words like “angry,” “sad” and “steaming.”
“We teach them helpful tricks,” said Boucher.
The pair uses terms like “green poison darts” for hurtful words, and “warm red smiles” for friendly gestures. They have an anger thermometer that helps students gauge and explain their emotions, as well as “peace puppets,” which help teach students to make better decisions.
Claire Flaherty, executive director of Volunteers of Warwick Schools (VOWS), taught the techniques to Ancona, Boucher and some of their peers. The curriculum is part of the Heads Up program, which is in its 11th year. The program teaches anti-bullying to volunteers and high school students, who in turn teach 10-week courses to second graders.
“The curriculum was developed for that grade level,” said Flaherty. “It’s early intervention to stop the undesirable behaviors before they actively demonstrate them.”
The program is now in 15 out of the 16 elementary schools in Warwick. Currently, 15 students from Pilgrim and seven from Toll Gate participate in the program, educating other second grade classrooms on the same topics Ancona and Boucher are teaching at Lippitt.
Flaherty said it’s beneficial for the second graders, but also the high school teachers.
Boucher and Ancona said they learned that bullying had a larger presence in elementary schools than they formerly thought. They also learned that some types of behavior that can be viewed as playful, like teasing or joking, sometimes become bullying.
Their participation in the Heads Up program has taught them about things other than bullying, too.
“They get 10 weeks of practice in public speaking right before they have to present their senior projects,” said Flaherty.
Both Ancona and Boucher admitted to being nervous to lead a classroom of 7-year-olds and 8-year-olds.
“It’s intimidating,” said Ancona. “It’s scary.”
Boucher had to read a book to one of the classes during her first weeks; an experience she said was a lesson in confidence.
“I was so nervous I couldn’t even focus on the book I was reading,” she laughed.
By week eight of 10, the two had shaken off their nerves and gotten comfortable in front of the class.
“They’ve been doing a great job,” said Flaherty, who remains present in the classroom to help the high school teachers should they need it.
Flaherty said it’s especially effective to have teachers the second graders can relate with.
“It’s important they model behavior,” said Flaherty. “The second grade students are more likely to identify with high school students.”