Bullying reduction comes in many different forms. Armed with cans of red, yellow, lime green and blue paint and rolls of masking tape, approximately 15 parents and staff members, along with a half-dozen students from Talbott Springs Elementary School, spent April 30 painting various shapes and game boards on the school’s newly paved blacktop aimed at reducing bullying. The artistic efforts were for the school’s new Peaceful Playground, which is the result of almost six months of work by Principal Nancy Thompson, her staff and the community. The program is designed to foster more movement and counter bullying and conflicts among students during recess.”The idea of an anti-bullying campaign is an issue everywhere, whether or not we have bullying here,” Thompson said. “I do believe strongly that children need to be taught skills about playing and interacting with others and learning conflict resolution skills without getting into some type of argument or fight. Kids don’t have a skill response,” which ultimately results in fighting, she explained.”I realized that one of the reasons we have children arguing or frustrated with each other is because we don’t have enough for them to do out there (on the playground), and we haven’t taught them the best skills to deal with their conflicts,” Thompson said. “Given all of that, I researched Peaceful Playgrounds and brought it to the P.E. staff, and we decided that we wanted to do this for our school, to reclaim our playground for the community so kids and families could play and have activities for them to do and offer them a safe place to play beyond the school day.”She added: “Conflicts can carry into classroom, and we end up losing instructional time, which we don’t have time to lose.”The Peaceful Playgrounds Recess Program kit costs $4,000 and includes training packets for staff members on standardizing what conflict resolution means, stencils for the blacktop, a spray paint machine, soccer nets and bean bags, and other items.The school, in East Columbia, hosted a Trot for Talbott fun run in November to help pay for purchasing the equipment and also received a grant from the Howard County Public School System Office of P.E. and Dance. The HCPSS grounds department contributed by resurfacing the school’s blacktop at a cost of $3,000.The playground isn’t the first campaign effort the school has had to reinforce appropriate behavior to its students.Talbott Springs is a Positive Behavioral Interventions and Support school, meaning the school “uses proactive strategies for defining, teaching and supporting appropriate student behaviors to create positive school environments,” according to the PBIS website. In support of that designation, the school also held a campaign for kindness.
“If we can teach kids to be empathetic, they will have a skill set for dealing with and understanding another person’s point of view,” Thompson said.
The school holds an on-going “Fill Your Bucket” campaign, where meetings are held weekly in each classroom and give students the opportunity to talk about how someone has “filled their bucket” with something positive or how an event has “drained their bucket.”
“Providing a safe space to express frustrations and happiness, in a risk-free environment, will help students learn a lot better,” Thompson said.
Despite those efforts, Thompson said, the school was “still having some issues on the playground,” which ultimately brought together the parents, staff members and students, along with Energy Solution employees, on a windy Saturday morning to paint hopscotch boards, number and alphabet grids, hopping and skipping lines, and multiuse circles.
“The long-range goal is they learn how to manage themselves in play situations where they perceive they’ve been wronged,” Thompson said. “It’s such a wonderful thing for the children to have lots of activities to do on a playground so they’re not waiting in line (to play), and there’s a variety of things for them to look forward to at recess. We need these kids to be running around at recess.”
P.E. teacher Tim Hlavka said he was “excited” by the new playground because “it gives the kids the opportunity to participate in activities they want to do.”