The final page of a storybook created by a PRAISE student at Girard Elementary.
Moderator’s Note: This post was authored by Danielle Centeno, MA, who served as a Violence Prevention Clinical Research Coordinator within CHOP’s Violence Prevention Initiative. As of December 2016, Ms. Centeno has left CHOP to pursue her career elsewhere.
Since September 2013, teams of CHOP facilitators have been working with Girard Elementary 3rd and 4th grade students and teachers through the 20-session classroom-based Preventing Aggression in Schools Everyday (PRAISE) program, a key component of CHOP’s Partner for Prevention program which takes a whole-school approach to bullying prevention in schools. The facilitators are noting remarkable change in their students.
Designed to teach students strategies for dealing with multiple forms of bullying along with developing skills in recognizing body clues, perspective taking, calming down, problem solving and empathy, PRAISE empowers students to use these skills to become a PRAISE leader within their classroom and throughout the school. By the end of PRAISE, students have the chance to show off their leadership skills to a younger peer group with the “Leadership Project Day.”
Over the past two years, CHOP facilitators have witnessed the extraordinary growth among many classrooms and students from the beginning of PRAISE to the Leadership Project. As a former PRAISE facilitator, it’s always exciting to hear how the program – especially the leadership projects – influences and changes students’ attitudes over a couple of months. The most recent cohort of students from Fall 2014 provided an exemplary model of just how much change can happen over a ten week period. One facilitator said, “We saw students who were hesitant to buy into PRAISE at the beginning of the program. Yet, with time, they were willing to open up and take ownership of the material when they were given the opportunity to step into leadership roles, both through being a friendship leader during sessions and through participation in the leadership project.” It appeared, to the facilitators and teachers, that after some time these students would be ready to take on a new attitude and become leaders within their school.
The true test of the student’s willingness to embrace PRAISE was when it came time to prepare and present their official leadership projects. In previous classrooms most students worked in groups to create and present posters or mini skits to a younger group of peers. This year however, with the encouragement of their facilitators, two classrooms decided to create bullying storybooks in small pairs. The end results were remarkable.
It took the students multiple class periods to write and illustrate their storybooks within the last few weeks of PRAISE. The books included themes related to cyber bullying, name calling, gossiping or leaving others out. The facilitators and teacher encouraged the students to use PRAISE language throughout the storyline which would be teaching points during their presentation. When it came time to read the stories aloud, students took turns reading a page and showing the illustrations to the younger peer group.
One of the facilitators was greatly impacted by a specific group of students during Project Day: “I remember one pair of students, an especially shy duo, who rose to the occasion. They supported each other in subtle ways while reading their storybook aloud, encouraging one another to speak louder, to stand taller, and to share their hand-crafted illustrations with more pride. They read their storybook with the excitement of young writers-in-the-making!” The enthusiasm for the program and their hard work was undeniable among all of the students, including their younger peers who remained quiet and attentive during all presentations. The facilitators were especially moved because, on that day, they saw different students from whom they had met at the beginning of the school year. These students now had a sense of confidence and maturity that truly shined through.
Author and motivational speaker Leo Buscaglia once said, “Change is the end result of all true learning.” In my experience, never has this sentiment come to life more clearly than through the students participating in the PRAISE program. I will never forget the day when the facilitators shared with me their student’s storybooks and how incredibly moved they were by the change in their students. It really brought to life how this program can make a positive difference at a time when these students are just beginning to understand friendships, respect, and how to make choices. The storybooks were not only thoughtful and inspiring, but they gave a glimpse into what PRAISE truly taught them. The best part? At the end of each story, all of the characters became friends.
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