MISHAWAKA, Ind. (AP) — Alyssa Cockey was at the park this summer when she saw two older girls bullying a younger one.
“They started hitting her and pulling her hair and said she was an ugly brat,” Alyssa said from her sixth-grade classroom at LaSalle Elementary School Thursday. “They were 14, picking on a child who is 11. I told them to go away,” she said. And they did.
For Alyssa, the experience was an opportunity to make good on a promise.
As part of an anti-bullying campaign at LaSalle, she signed a pledge to stand up to bullies, even when the victim is a stranger.
“It makes everyone feel they’re wanted and needed,” Alyssa said, “and it makes the kids who like to bully be a lot nicer.”
Erase Meanness, a program that started with students like Alyssa at LaSalle, has spread to more than 200 schools worldwide, including those in 13 countries, such as South Korea, Indonesia and Dubai.
LaSalle teacher Eric Johnson — School City of Mishawaka’s teacher of the year — came up with the concept, which includes a weeklong curriculum, five years ago.
“We came back from spring break” that year, Johnson said, “and there were a lot of tears, arguments, bad feelings” among students. “I started to panic a little because I knew the calendar said we had two months to go. All the family, community (in the classroom), I saw it erode and it worried me.”
So the sixth-grade teacher, who is known for being tech- and social-media savvy, went for a bike ride to clear his head.
“While I was out there,” he said, “I began to think about a series of lessons that would make kids think about the choices they make today and how they want to be remembered, to realize they have a legacy they’re in control of.”
The concept — and program — has grown since then with the creation of a nonprofit organization and a website devoted to the cause.
This school year, 30,000 students around the world signed pledges — visual reminders — to be kind. And many have shared their photos and experiences of doing so on social media.
Locally, Erase Meanness has become a school-wide program at LaSalle. And, it’s spread to other Mishawaka schools, including John Young Middle School.
Johnson said a team spent an evening putting sticky notes with positive messages like “Smile, your face likes it” and “The world needs you” on 800 lockers there to greet students the next morning.
Looking ahead, Johnson said he’d like to further develop the curriculum for Erase Meanness. But, he said, it’ll always be free because for him, it’s “a labor of love.”
He’d also like to create a scientific system for measuring the impact and staying power of the program, though he knows that’ll require the assistance of partners.
Another of Johnson’s students, Emma Niswonger, said the message of Erase Meanness is meant to benefit those who bully as much as their victims.
“If we can all stand up and erase meanness,” she said, “that one student or those kids that are doing it, might want to fit in with us.”
The overarching theme also transcends the issue of bullying.
“It’s just about erasing the nasty words,” she said, “it’s about bringing out the good words and telling people they’re a good person.”
Source: South Bend Tribune, http://bit.ly/1PxJm5d
Information from: South Bend Tribune, http://www.southbendtribune.com
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