While it may have been School Violence Awareness Week across the state, the Mt. Laurel School District puts an emphasis on respect every day.
In addition to the special activities and events the schools held for violence awareness last week, Mt. Laurel has a program that puts extra emphasis on the idea of a school family all year-round to help prevent bullying, according to Director of Communication Services Marie Reynolds.
Mt. Laurel schools take 10 minutes out of the beginning of every day to have a session called Responsive Classroom.
In Responsive Classroom, the students sit together and discuss whatever is on their minds. It allows the kids to get stress from outside the classroom off their chest before the school day begins.
“It’s been very positive,” Reynolds said. “There are things that come up in the classroom that set the tone for the rest of the day.”
Reynolds depicted one scenario where an elementary school student’s dog had died the previous evening. Not only did discussing it allow the teacher and students to understand why the student was sad, but they were also very empathetic to the student the rest of the day.
The program, in that sense, brings togetherness to the class.
“They’re starting their day as a family,” Reynolds said. “It’s like they’re sitting around the breakfast table.”
Reynolds said the staff members are very social and upbeat as the students enter the school as well. The teachers play as big of a part in the Responsive Classroom as the students do.
“Our staff members have been specifically trained in that so they meet our students in the morning with a handshake and a friendly greeting,” Reynolds said.
The Responsive Classroom and the programs that Mt. Laurel schools held during Violence Awareness Week are not new initiatives to the district.
Reynolds said Mt. Laurel has been at the forefront of promoting anti-bullying and was countering it before the state passed the law on bullying in 2011.
For example, Responsive Classroom has been a program that Mt. Laurel has featured in its schools for the last 10 years.
“These are things we always did,” Reynolds said. “You can’t teach kids that are sitting at their desk worried about the kid sitting next to them. It’s a matter of climate.”
For School Violence Awareness Week, Mt. Laurel schools did a variety of activities that corresponded to each specific grade level.
In the elementary schools, focus was put on the kids being “upstanders” and saying something to their peers when they are being a bully toward another classmate.
School counselors at Larchmont Elementary School visited each classroom to teach this lesson to the students, while at Fleetwood Elementary School, first- and second-grade students read a book called “The Juice Box Bully” that taught the very same lesson.
The middle schools had activities relating to anti-bullying as well. The Hartford School created a school-wide mural as part of a Band-Aid for Bullying program.
Meanwhile, at Harrington Middle School, the students attended an assembly called Straight Talk, where a non-profit group called the Steered Straight Organization talked to the seventh- and eighth-grade students about making better decisions in life.
The focus of all of these programs is to make Mt. Laurel schools a place where the school family comes first.