Students show ‘everyone should be friends’

Charles Street School holds parade for its anti-bullying theme of the new year

Charles Street School Principal Brian J. McBride and Assistant Principal Chris Tracey join their students at the front of the school’s kickoff parade for the theme of the new year, ‘Kind Words are the Music at Charles Street School.’

Stephen Finn

The Sun

The students of Charles Street School took to the streets and made some joyful noise on Friday, Oct. 12. “Kind Words are the Music at Charles Street School” is a theme the elementary school is adopting this year to promote kindness and respect and put an end to bullying.

The kickoff for this theme was done in grand fashion with a parade around the perimeter of the school. Every student was able to participate, and the parade line stretched the length of an entire block. Going along with the school’s theme, Charles Street students constructed handmade instruments in the weeks leading up to the event and played them as they marched.

Parents lined the walkway in front of the school to support their children.

“I think it’s an awesome thing and I think the kids really enjoy it. They get them into knowing that everyone should be friends and not mean to each other,” said Heather Merlo, who had a fifth- and third-grader marching in the parade. Using recycled materials, her daughter made a guitar for the event and her son made a drum.

Merlo has had a very positive experience with the school both of her children have attended since kindergarten.

“Everybody gets along. It’s a really nice environment here and it’s in a small community where everyone knows each other,” said Merlo.

Anyone attending the parade who signed in at the front door of the school was given a green shirt with the phrase “Kind Words are the Music at Charles Street School” on the front. The idea came from a contest held last year where students submitted their ideas for a theme for the coming school year.

Passing out the shirts was fifth-grade teacher Kathleen Myers. She has firsthand experience working with today’s schoolchildren who face different challenges than their parents did at their age.

“I think they have a lot more issues to face because everything is right in front of them with media and technology. They’re exposed to a lot more,” said Myers. “We try to give them different ways of coping and different strategies and hopefully it will help them. Between their parents and the schools, we can work together and hopefully make them more aware.”

Assistant Principal of Charles Street, Christopher Tracey, expanded on some of the strategies the school has implemented to address bullying.

“Today, kids can say things about each other anonymously. When we were kids, at three o’clock you got to leave everything at school and go home. Today, things can follow our kids home on social media,” said Tracey, whose morning announcements always include a daily reminder to be kind.

To get ahead of some of these negative behaviors, the school has brought in State Police to visit classrooms and talk to students about the effects and dangers of online bullying.

There are also strategies in place for addressing bullying that can happen in-person during the school day.

“Whenever there’s an incident, we try and address it right away in the classroom,” said Tracey. “For example, if there’s an issue with name-calling, we could turn it into a teachable moment right there in class.”

Tracey is the HIB specialist for Charles Street School. HIB stands for harassment, intimidation and bullying and is part of New Jersey’s Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act that became law in 2011. This act requires schools to conduct investigations into any reports of bullying on their premises.

Tracey is proud to announce there has yet to be a single HIB report so far this year. In the case of such a report Tracey is the one to investigate the incident.

“I like to bring the parents in at an early stage,” said Tracey. When everyone gets involved it is much easier to deal with the issue.

He hopes kids come out of these experiences with a better understanding of the impact their actions can have.

“The goal is to educate rather than impose punitive consequences,” said Tracey.