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Promoting peace through pledges
Besides being a gateway to warmer weather, April has been deemed Child Abuse Prevention and Sexual Assault Awareness month. The theme this year is, “Be the solution,” and one Island County organization has decided to do just that.
Citizens Against Domestic and Sexual Abuse representatives, in partnership with United Way of Island County and Soroptimist International of Oak Harbor, launched a “Hands and Words Should Not Hurt” campaign and began spreading their message at Crescent Harbor Elementary.
“Our vision is to end violence in the community,” CADA Executive Director Margie Porter said. “If we can make a difference with kids, maybe we won’t have to have a CADA 30 years from now.”
In the summer, Porter approached the Oak Harbor School District with her idea to educate students about how to deal with anger and relationships in positive ways and to have them pledge not to hurt others with their words or actions. Assistant Superintendent Lance Gibbon liked the idea and suggested that the program start in one school and be given the opportunity to expand to others if successful.
Since October, CADA Youth and Community Educator Georgette Anglum has been in 22 classrooms and has given the pledge to more than 450 students.
Anglum said she starts her lesson by asking the kids what it means to make a promise or to take a pledge and then moves the discussion to how they feel when they get angry and what kind of ways anger is expressed. They then talk about healthy ways to deal with their emotions like walking away to cool down or talking to a trusted adult.
“It’s been pretty positive,” Anglum said. “It’s amazing how many of the students want to be involved. I have not found a classroom that’s quiet. They’re respectful, but when there’s something going on, they all want to participate.”
The students are given a piece of paper with the words, “I will keep my hands and words from hurting others,” written across the top and an explanation of what it looks like to uphold that promise. They are then asked to sign the paper and seal the deal by tracing their hand on the front. The pledges are then hung in the classrooms along with the pledge logo, a purple hand in front of a stop sign. Additionally, CADA has made logo bookmarks, stickers, erasers and magnets to hand out to the kids.
“The goal is that everywhere they turn they see it and it just gets ingrained in their brains,” Anglum said.
At a workshop for new students on March 22, CHE student Brooke Williams told Anglum, “When the hand is there, it’ll mean stop and don’t be mean to anybody.”
In the 2010 Island County Health Youth Survey, 10.77 percent on average of eighth, 10th and 12th graders said they had been bullied in the last 30 days; 4.23 percent said they were bullied because of their sexual orientation, 7.2 percent said they were bullied because of their race or ethnicity and 6.1 percent because of their gender.
Porter said while many kids admit to being bullied, few consider themselves to have bullied others, so she hopes the program will force students to do a self-assessment and analyze their own behaviors.
“We’re not going to see an immediate difference,” Porter said. “This is an ongoing process. If we help one person be safer or nicer or act better, than we’ve had a success, and I think we’re doing that.”
Each time Crescent Harbor receives new students, Anglum goes into the school to meet with them and tell them about the pledge. Porter said Gibbon has set up a meeting with school counselors across the district to talk about implementing the program in more buildings, but Porter hopes to bring it to every school in all three Whidbey districts and even to community organizations and events like the Boys & Girls Club and National Night Out.
“If we don’t work with kids, how are we going to make a change?” she said.