A Way of Life at Little Keswick School
By Terry Columbus
434-295-0457 ext 14
February 2, 2011
Bullying occurs in the majority of schools across the country today. It leads to lower levels of self-esteem and has a negative impact on a child's academic and social emotional growth. Currently a major effort is underway in America's school systems to combat bullying. Schools are getting better at implementing strategies to deal with this epidemic, but significant problems continue to arise from children picking on other children. Though bullying has recently been spotlighted as a national issue, Little Keswick School has prevented bullying for many years by creating a culture that develops values of respect and dignity that are the cornerstones of the school's community.
Developing Values and Creating Culture
At Little Keswick, we have adopted numerous policies and program elements that directly address bullying, and provide the students with skills to decrease the likelihood of bullying, and learn how to manage it more successfully. While many schools offer programs that teach students to recognize and defend against bullying, LKS focuses on the prevention of bullying by encouraging students to develop values that reflect a sincere belief in treating others with dignity and respect. Our primary tool in helping students develop these values is creating a culture that exemplifies those beliefs. Unlike many schools that utilize a single program to respond to bullying, our school works through many facets of our culture. Staff at the school support these values and understand the potential that every student has in developing social relationships within each interaction. All staff constantly role model what it means to treat others in dignified ways. Through intensive support from staff, students grow in ways that help them rise above bullying and commit to being a positive influence in our community and in the world beyond our campus.
The Community Action Committee
The Community Action Committee at LKS specifically works to create a curriculum that addresses the issues of bullying in the community and to develop creative interventions to teach the skills necessary to build self-esteem and improve relations. The committee is comprised of teachers, residential shift supervisors, the academic coordinator, an intervention specialist, and a clinical psychologist. This group meets monthly to discuss topics for classroom and dorm meetings that create themes and skill-based lessons that allow the students to engage in fun activities while simultaneously building competencies to navigate the social arena. While other school programs focus on how to directly deal with bullies, this approach places more emphasis on the concept of building awareness and confidence in student's skills to manage peer dynamics. Instead of focusing on what not to do such as bulling, the program builds more positive skill sets in order that the students feel equipped to manage more challenging peer situations at school and outside of our community.
Circle of Champions
Monthly student meetings known as the "Circle of Champions" address specific skill areas that will allow students to support the victim, indirectly defuse the situation, and/or know where to go for help. We emphasize to our students that there is more than one way to create a positive peer culture in our community.
The main goal is to have a more positive peer culture; this should have a direct impact on the amount of bullying that occurs in the school. This year the theme for the schools bullying program is focused around Extreme Sports and the concept that extreme athletes develop many different skills in order to perform their sport.
The student's develop a large skill base, as well as an awareness of what skills or strategies are most useful in specific situations. Many of the classroom lessons include hands-on activities which increase engagement and learning environment of the students.
Community Champion Award
One of the ways the school recognizes students who exemplify the characteristics of a positive role model in the community and someone who supports his peers is through the weekly Community Champion Award. Each week one student earns this award for supporting his peers for assisting students and showing respect for self and others in the community. By learning these skills students transition from the school prepared and empowered to make change.
One recent recipient of this award wrote an article in his family's neighborhood newspaper in which he explains why the award is important to him:
"I was recently honored… with the Community Champion Award in recognition of my efforts to stand up to bullying, to include others in activities, and to mentor younger students. I'm glad I can make life at my school better for others by helping to stop bullying and by teaching students… Life is really good when everyone gets along.
Recently an LKS alumnus became aware of the fact that several students were participating in cyber bullying of another student. That former student spoke directly to the school to help gain support for the child that was being victimized and spoke directly to the other students and encouraged them to change their actions. This former student maintained his commitment to being a positive influence after leaving the school. These stories illustrate how our focus on each student's personal commitment in supporting a community wide culture of respect has helped shape the students into leaders who promote mutual growth and understanding and respect for all people.
The program continues to evolve to meet the needs of our students specifically, and is addressing ways to generalize these skills to situations outside of LKS.
Little Keswick School is a small residential therapeutic boarding school for boys ages 10 to 17 who struggle with emotional and social challenges in addition to those struggling with learning disabilities.