The 2020-’21 school year might have begun a little differently than any other, but students are still learning the importance of kindness, respect and empathy.
Like other districts throughout New Jersey, Cinnaminson Township Public Schools hosted its annual Week of Respect Oct. 5 to 9. The state’s Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act mandates that the first full week of October is dedicated to schools teaching both emotional and social skills through character education in a number of impactful, hands-on ways.
As Cinnaminson adapted the lessons for each of its K-12 schools, presentations, lessons and assignments all delivered a message on treating others with respect and were tailored to every developmental and learning stage.
Some of the township’s youngest students at the Pre K-2 New Albany School (NAS) celebrated the Week of Respect with theme days, in addition to a schoolwide clothing collection. In a partnership with the homeless shelter Anna M. Sample House in Camden, students will spend the month observing “Socktober,” wherein they’ll unite to collect 300 pairs of socks for those in need.
During the week’s remote Wednesday, the school librarian delivered a lesson about acceptance by reading “The Invisible Boy,” the story of a boy who feels ignored and forgotten until the new kid is the first to make him feel welcome. Throughout the week, guidance counselor Devon Mohler developed lesson plans to help students better understand concepts like acceptance and respect while learning ways they can combat bullying.
“The Week of Respect is so incredibly important and is one of my favorite things I get to plan as the school counselor,” Mohler said. “To me, this week holds so much value, especially at our school, where the students are young and absorb so much of what is around them.”
She added that instilling a sense of respect at an early age allows a child to develop that value as he or she matures.
“Teaching these principles of respect at such a young age truly lays a foundation for the rest of their lives,” said Mohler.
“We are passionate about helping to teach our students the gift of giving back to those in need, especially at a young age, as it sets the foundation for the rest of their lives,” agreed Principal Valerie Jones. “We pride ourselves on promoting character education through community service throughout the school year.”
According to the guidance counselor, the tangible act of giving to others, like with the school’s sock drive, makes an impression on the school’s young pupils and helps them observe the world through a lens of empathy.
“One of our focuses of the week has been to educate students on the shelter to help make this collection have more meaning,” Mohler explained. “We want our students to give back and show respect to those in need, instead of making judgments about their situations.”
Each morning of Respect Week at Eleanor Rush Intermediate School started with students learning how to show regard for individuals and the world around them by learning about self-respect, respect for others and ways to respect the environment. The school’s guidance counselor also met with each class to lead lessons on treating others with kindness and to talk about anti-bullying measures.
Morning Meetings for third grade students included time spent discussing respect-based themes. They’ve been reading the book “Enemy Pie,” where the main character sets out to make a “treat” for his enemy, only to find a friend once they get to know each other. Students have been drawing from the children’s book for inspiration in creating their own Friendship Pie recipes to be included on a bulletin board.
Meanwhile, fourth and fifth grade classes also began with Morning Meetings that taught them why kindness and respect are important. Fourth graders looked inward to explore — and celebrate — what makes each person unique, while reaching outward in lessons that taught them how to be better active listeners.
Fifth grade teachers gave their students daily quotes in homeroom every day, asking them to both reflect on and discuss each one. Fully remote classes read the Newbury Medal-winning “Weslandia” aloud and discussed how the main character, once a loner, gained respect from classmates by creating his own civilization.
At Cinnaminson Middle School, theme days helped students understand the topics their Week of Respect explored. Examples included wearing blue for World Bullying Prevention Day, donning a cozy sweatshirt or pair of sweatpants to illustrate that being a good friend is no sweat and teaming up against bullying by wearing a favorite sports team’s jersey.
Students also learned more harassment, intimidation and bullying practices — an initiative commonly referred to as HIB — during gym and health classes. One focused activity taught middle schoolers the foundations of respecting others. Its lessons included explaining and demonstrating actionable ways to embrace the value of treating others kindly by showing respect to family, friends, school and community.
Much like the middle-school students, Cinnaminson High School students also learned about HIB. They reviewed laws surrounding the anti-bullying initiative in their health and physical education classes, as well as information they can put to practical use, like how to identify and prevent bullying.
Each day of Respect Week focused on combating and eliminating discrimination in all its forms. Video lessons, discussion questions and assignments all underscored daily messages with topics like Divided We Fall, Bullying — Gone Too Far and Pledge to Help Others.
By the end of the week, the goal was for students to not only internalize the importance of respect but also how they can be vehicles of kindness, respect and thoughtfulness in lessons adapted to each school’s demographic.
“Each of our schools came up with age-appropriate lessons and programs,” said the district’s Director of Curriculum & Instruction Frank Goulburn. “No matter what age they are, our students need to understand that it’s not enough to say that bullying is bad: They need to know how to prevent bullying and harassment, too. But at the same time, we tried to shine a light and focus on all the good things our students do and all the good choices they can make in tough situations.”
The week also served as a timely reminder to all of the district’s K-12 students that there’s never a bad time to learn about caring for others, and that the Cinnaminson schools are meant to be safe places for every child every day of the school year.
“It’s very, very difficult and challenging for students to be able to learn and do well in school if they’re the victim of bullying or they’re being mistreated,” Goulburn said. “We want our schools to be as inclusive and distraction-free as possible. Teaching students how to prevent bullying isn’t just something we do for a week in October: We have character-education initiatives going on all year to create a climate and culture in which all of our students feel appreciated and included.”