"Four-eyes." Back before glasses were a fashion statement and way before contact lenses became mainstream, kids who wore glasses were teased and bullied by classmates fortunate enough to have 20/20 vision.
The taunts from my childhood still linger down the decades, despite my pretense at the time to shrug off unkind words.
Perhaps that's why I was so taken with No Name-Calling Awareness Week, launched throughout the San Ramon Valley school district for the first time last week. As its name implies, the program focuses on the problem of name-calling in schools and seeks to inspire an ongoing dialogue about the impact words can have.
Co-sponsored by the district's Climate Committee and the Inclusion & Diversity Committee of the San Ramon Valley Council of Parent-Teacher Associations, the program was brought to the district by Gary Leveque, a teacher at Charlotte Wood Middle School in Danville, and Allison Gardiner, who teaches at Dougherty Valley High School in San Ramon. They were inspired by a program started 10 years ago that's sponsored by the Gay and Lesbian State Education Network and already in effect across the country. No Name-Calling Week is supported by the No Name-Calling Week Coalition, comprised of more than 60 national partner organizations, including the National Association of Elementary School Principals, the American School Counselor Association and the National School Boards Association.
I spoke with Shalini Reddy Kumar, committee chair of the Inclusion & Diversity Committee, about how schools are implementing the program. She said blue wristbands featuring a catchy slogan, "Words Matter," were created, bought by the SRV Council of PTAs and distributed to all the district's students.
"It will be a yearly thing like Red Ribbon Week," she said. "No Name-Calling should be practiced every day, not just during the special week. It happens all the time, and we want to end that."
Fast-forward 50 years and being called "four-eyes" seems pretty mild compared to current-day slurs casually flung on campus, in texts and via social media. Kumar told me in an email that a survey conducted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports that students ages 9 to 13 consider name-calling the worst kind of verbal bullying and that threatening words and taunting, based on race or appearance, have as much negative impact as does physical bullying. Students report hurt feelings, low self-esteem and depression which, in extreme cases, can result in suicidal behavior.
What did Danville schools do to implement No Name-Calling Awareness Week? Kumar said that schools observed the week with activities planned by principals, staff members, PTAs, leadership students and/or site Climate Committees. Individual and group pledges were provided for students to sign, stating their belief that bullying and calling others hurtful names is wrong and pledging to not bully others or call them hurtful names, to intervene (when safe) in situations when students are being called names and to support efforts to end bullying and name-calling.
Some sample activities: A pledge wall was set up at San Ramon Valley High School and a Facebook page was created to share kindnesses given or received. Videos were produced by Charlotte Wood and Monte Vista High School students. At Green Valley Elementary School, a "Buddy Bench" is being designed by the principal and one child from each grade level. It will be a place to sit for students who need a playmate at lunchtime.
Greenbrook Elementary School students created a paper chain-link with kind words and listened as their principal read "The Sneetches" by Dr. Seuss. And at John Baldwin Elementary School, kids nominated for doing a particular kindness with words or standing up for no name-calling received a bead, charm or add-on of some kind for their "Words Matter" wristband. "Don't Laugh at Me," a video and story, was watched or listened to by Creekside Elementary and Montair Elementary school students.
Sounds like an effective way to emphasize that acts of kindness make a positive difference in everyone's lives and that words do, indeed, matter.
Contact Georgia Lambert at firstname.lastname@example.org.