Babies teach lessons in empathy

During a Roots of Empathy classroom visit at Maury Elementary School, June Goodman looks at a toy held by fourth-grade students Kanye Cheeks, left, Gabriel Smaw, second from left, and LaTrice Hicks, far right.During a Roots of Empathy classroom visit at Maury Elementary School, June Goodman looks at a toy held by fourth-grade students Kanye Cheeks, left, Gabriel Smaw, second from left, and LaTrice Hicks, far right. (Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post)

Babies are cute. But can playing with a visiting baby teach empathy? Five Washington D.C. elementary schools are bringing babies into classrooms “to hep students recognize and deal with emotions,” reports the Washington Post.

A Canadian program called Roots of Empathy is being tried  in the U.S. “amid growing concern about classroom bullying and growing conviction that teaching certain character traits — such as persistence, self-control and self-confidence — is just as crucial for students’ futures as teaching academics.”

Roots is built on a simple notion: When babies such as June bring their huge eyes, irrepressible smiles and sometimes unappeasable tears into the classroom, students can’t help but feel for them. The idea is that recognizing and caring about a baby’s emotions can open a gateway for children to learn bigger lessons about taking care of one another, considering others’ feelings, having patience.

A baby, with a parent, visits each classroom once a month.

 A volunteer instructor asks questions related to one of nine themes, from the reasons babies cry to the emotions they feel. The classes — which range from 30 to 50 minutes, depending on the baby’s mood — are mostly a chance for students to watch the baby as it responds to songs and games and to ask questions and share observations about whatever comes to mind.

With discussions before and after the baby’s visit, students spend 20 hours a year on the program. Some D.C. elementary schools don’t offer a full year of science or social studies, the Post notes.

Children do better in school when they learn social-emotional skills, argues Kimberly Schonert-Reichl, a psychology professor at the University of British Columbia. “Children who participate in Roots tend to show declines in aggressive, bullying behaviors and growth in sharing, cooperative and helping ones,” her research shows.

Parents ‘trigger’ change — without a charter

At a Los Angeles school, a parents’ group used the state’s “parent trigger” law to get the changes they wanted, while keeping West Athens Elementary in the school district, writes Natasha Lindstrom for the Hechinger Report.

Los Angeles Unified agreed “to bolster school behavior and safety plans, improve communication between parents and teachers and provide increased professional development and support for teachers,” reports Lindstrom. The district will spend $300,000 to fund a full-time psychologist, a part-time psychiatrist social worker and a full-time attendance officer.

Members of the 24th Street Elementary School parent union meet at a park near their children's Los Angeles school to discuss the next steps to force a major overhaul of their struggling neighborhood school. They're among the first in the nation to use the so-called "parent trigger" law to transform a school. (Photo courtesy Parent Revolution)

Members of the 24th Street Elementary School parent union meet at a park near their children’s Los Angeles school.  (Photo courtesy Parent Revolution)

The law lets a majority of parents at a low-performing school petition for changes “ranging from replacing the principal and half the staff to converting the school into a charter,”  reports Lindstrom.

Gabe Rose, deputy executive director of Parent Revolution, said he views the collaboration as a positive sign that these types of efforts can lead to changes without disrupting and dividing communities. In this case, the parent trigger served as leverage, a negotiating tool to ensure parent concerns were heard, but invoking the actual law didn’t prove necessary, he said.

“Districts have seen the story play out enough times now, I think, that they understand they have to take organized parents seriously because they have real rights and they have real power if they stick together,” Rose said.

Two early trigger campaigns in Adelanto and Compton were fought fiercely. By negotiating with parents, Los Angeles Unified now has avoided a takeover fight at three schools. At 24th Street Elementary, a deal was worked out: The district runs the K-4 grades while a charter operator runs grades 5 to 8.

School safety problems — and a principal who was never available — prompted West Athens parents to form a union, says Winter Hall, whose kindergarten daughter was bullied. Once the instructional director began listening to their concerns, “we opted out of trigger and decided maybe this would work, maybe we could collaborate instead.”

School: It’s OK to tell on bullies

Bullying rules sent home with Zeman fifth-grade students

A school of bullies

special ed student who recorded classmates bullying him in math class was threatened with wiretapping charges, then convicted of disorderly conduct, reports Ben Swann. The student, a sophomore at a Pennsylvania high school, has been diagnosed with a comprehension delay disorder, ADHD and an anxiety disorder.

The student and his mother, Shea Love, testified before the magistrate that the boy has been repeatedly shoved and tripped at school, and that a fellow student had even attempted to burn him with a cigarette lighter. . . . He says the bullying treatment is especially harsh and academically disruptive during his special education math class, in which students with behavioral problems are also placed.

The boy has been moved from the special ed math class. No action was taken against the bullies.

Last Chance High‘s second episode introduces “Spanky” Almond, a pudgy boy with a speech impediment, who’s mocked and bullied by classmates at Chicago’s school for emotionally and behaviorally disordered students. Oh, and dad is a murderer who’s out of prison and might resume his abuse of the family.

Why is a kid this vulnerable in a school packed with abusers?

We see an ineffectual science teacher and a compassionate coach.

Boys, bullies and My Little Pony

Nine-year-old Grayson Bruce, bullied for wearing a “girly” bag, will be back in school with his My Little Pony backpack. Buncombe County Schools (North Carolina) administrators had banned the backpack because it “triggered bullying.”

His mother, Noreen Bruce had pulled her son out of school.

Seven-year-old Barnaby loves Rainbow Dash, a My Little Pony character, but he won’t wear his Rainbow Dash sweatshirt to school writes his father, Sean Williams, on Slate. He said, “I think it will make the other kids uncomfortable.”

It’s OK for girls to show masculine traits — “strong is the new skinny” — but “men and boys are mostly shamed for expressing anything outside of the macho ideal,” writes Williams. Barnaby

My Little Pony’s mythology is based on the six Elements of Harmony: “Kindness, generosity, honesty, laughter, loyalty, and magic” are the tools the heroine ponies use to solve problems, Williams writes. “What you don’t find is ambition, or aggression, or force of will.”

Barnaby wears his Rainbow Dash sweatshirt at home, writes Williams. “I’m sad that at 7, he already knows what wearing it” at school would mean.

Adult men who like My Little Pony are known as “bronies,” I’ve learned. There’s a documentary on the phenomenon.

‘My Little Pony’ bag is ‘bullying trigger’

Grayson Bruce, 9, can’t take his My Little Pony lunch bag to school because school officials say it’s a “trigger for bullying.”

Bullies who think My Little Pony is for girls are “punching me, pushing me down, calling me horrible names, stuff that really shouldn’t happen,” the North Carolina boy told WLOS-TV.

Buncombe County Schools gave WLOS a statement that said: “An initial step was taken to immediately address a situation that had created a disruption in the classroom.  Buncombe County Schools takes bullying very seriously, and we will continue to take steps to resolve this issue.”

Defender of gay student won’t be expelled

life lesson: what's right and what's permitted doesn't always matchA Florida high school student was suspended, but not expelled, for defending a gay classmate who was being attacked in the cafeteria.

Mark Betterson’s 10-day suspension was reduced to two days after a disciplinary hearing. When James Griffin swung at the football player, he fought back, breaking “zero tolerance” rules. He says he’d do it again, if necessary.

Griffin was arrested for battery for punching Jonathan Colon in the face and head.

“I think it’s a good punishment as substitution for expulsion, but (Betterson) shouldn’t even have been considered for expulsion for what he did,” said sophomore Cody Lesie.

“I think it’s horrible because he got suspended for doing something right,” said sophomore Kyle Piogrim.

No kidding.

Zero tolerance for standing up to bully

When a bully attacked a gay student in the cafeteria, a football player stepped in to protect the victim. Rescuer Mark Betterson was suspended for 10 days for fighting, reports Gay Star News. James Griffin, 18, faces battery charges for the attack on Jonathan Colon, who’s openly gay.

East Lee County High School in Florida has a zero tolerance policy on fighting, reports Reason‘s Hit and Run blog. It doesn’t matter who started it.

Griffin reportedly threw milk in Colon’s face and shouted homophobic slurs before punching him twice in the head. “Jonathan was just going to stand there and get beat up … if I didn’t jump into it,” Betterson told WFTX-TV. “I was just trying to break up the whole thing because its not fair for somebody to get beat up for something that he is.”

Betterson said he had only gotten physical when Griffin had begun throwing punches at him too.

“He swung at me and was like ‘you can get it too’ so we got into a fight,” Betterson said.

” . . to be suspended for 10 days, I don’t understand. I’m not going to stand there and watch somebody get bullied.”

Colon didn’t know Betterson before the fight, he said. “I was protected by someone who had no reason to protect me, we have nothing in common – he’s on the football team and I’m the flamboyant gay boy.” 

Life imitates Glee.

Colon organized classmates to protest Betterson’s suspension, which will be reviewed on Monday.

No-rules play lowers injuries, bullying

A New Zealand school that got rid of playground rules saw a “drop in bullying, serious injuries and vandalism, while concentration levels in class are increasing,” reports TVNZ. 

Chaos may reign at Swanson Primary School with children climbing trees, riding skateboards and playing bullrush during playtime, but surprisingly the students don’t cause bedlam, the principal says.

 “We want kids to be safe and to look after them, but we end up wrapping them in cotton wool when in fact they should be able to fall over,” says Principal Bruce McLachlan.

Swanson School worked with university researchers on encouraging active play, then decided to throw out the rule book. When the study ended, “researchers were amazed by the results,” reports TVNZ.

Mudslides, skateboarding, bullrush and tree climbing kept the children so occupied the school no longer needed a timeout area or as many teachers on patrol.

Instead of a playground, children used their imagination to play in a “loose parts pit” which contained junk such as wood, tyres and an old fire hose.

AUT professor of public health Grant Schofield said there are too many rules in modern playgrounds. “The great paradox of cotton-woolling children is it’s more dangerous in the long-run.” Children learn about consequences by taking risks, he said.

The research project morphed into something bigger when plans to upgrade playgrounds were stopped due to over-zealous safety regulations and costly play equipment.

“There was so many ridiculous health and safety regulations and the kids thought the static structures of playgrounds were boring.”

Via Instapundit.

Here are some wild-and-crazy playground designs from a Danish firm.

New Ridiculously Imaginative Playgrounds from Monstrum Set the Monkey Bars High for Innovation playgrounds kids

Rudolph’s revenge

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All of the other reindeer used to laugh and call him names.