PLAINVILLE—For the last two weeks, 91 middle school students worked with trainers from the Connecticut Anti-Defamation League to build leadership skills during a series of anti-bullying workshops.
Thomas Laudadio, dean of students at the Middle School of Plainville, said the workshops are part of a larger plan to enhance the school climate.
"There is educational research that says kids need to come to a building that is safe and positive in order for teaching and learning to happen at its highest potential."
Laudadio has spent nearly a decade working with students on social skills and the last three years developing MSP Allies, a group that meets monthly to train students to recognize and effectively challenge bullying.
He explained that students are nominated for the program and start training before entering sixth grade. On the first day of middle school, the new class of sixth graders attends an assembly called "Step Up," which encourages the entire class to become allies against bullying.
Last week, 22 sixth graders participated in the first of four "Cyber Ally" workshops, where the focus was to identify and challenge cyber bullying.
"Our kids communicate using social media," said Laudadio, "and the current medium allows for more communication to happen."
Tamara O'Day-Stevens, of the Anti-Defamation League, is the assistant dean of students at the University of Saint Joseph and a town resident. She said she was excited to have an opportunity to engage kids and promote diversity in her home town.
"We're re-teaching social skills; 80 percent of students are bystanders and they don't know what to do," she said. "So the idea is to help bystanders find their voice and go from being a bystander to an ally."
The message appeared to resonate with students, who voiced their own mediation tactics when presented with various bullying scenarios.
"Most of us before were probably bystanders and we're more comfortable standing up to bullying now," said sixth grader Zachary McGough.
Students are excited about the program.
"There should be an anti-bullying program in the elementary school, because it starts there and it's hard to unlearn a behavior," sixth grader Allie Chambrello said.
"You have six years of bullying and traumatizing before you realize there's someone there to help you," added Madison Schney.
The school has seen a rise in academic performance. Connecticut Mastery Test average scale scores increased from 246.2 in '05-'06 to an average scaled score of 266 in the '11-'12 school year. "As discipline referrals drop, CMT scores have increased," Laudadio said.
In addition to the student workshops, the group promotes positive behaviors by distributing MSP Ally bracelets and Express to Success tickets, which can be used in exchange for items at the school store.
The goal is to teach students to recognize what positive behaviors look like, while reinforcing the school expectations, said Laudadio. "We knew early on, we're going to focus on the curriculum by improving the climate and culture of the building."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun