GLEN ELLYN – When Maddie Greenleaf and Noelle Todor used to witness bullying, they would just let it go instead of addressing what was happening.
But that’s all different now, thanks to Girls’ Teas at Lincoln Elementary School in Glen Ellyn. The two fifth-graders now know how to avoid acting as a bully bystander or messenger when someone’s being bullied, instead telling their peers to stop gossiping when they hear that happening in the girls’ bathroom.
“These girls’ teas really changed me and how I look at things,” Noelle said.
Fifth-grade teacher Pat HarteNaus is the author of the Belden Boy books, which addresses bullying. She met with fifth-grade girls for tea and cookies during their lunch periods throughout the school year. The lunchtime sessions allowed students to discuss bullying in a safe and comfortable environment where no one was named.
About 40 students voluntarily attended each of the sessions, which were held once or twice each month, HarteNaus said. All fifth-grade girls were invited to attend.
This was the fourth year that HarteNaus held the sessions, which culminated April 4 when students made friendship bracelets and took an anti-bullying pledge. But she decided to mix things up a bit during the second half of the school year by incorporating aspects of problem-based learning, she said.
After using the sessions as a way to discuss their experiences with bullying, students were charged with identifying the types of bullying they see and where it occurs. Juli Kennelly, the school’s social worker, was brought in as an expert to speak to the girls about bullying, HarteNaus said.
Students identified eye-rolling, whispering, talking about others behind their backs and cliques as main ways girls are bullied at school. The areas where bullying occurs the most include the playground, lunch room, bathrooms and hallways outside of classrooms, students said.
Kennelly spoke to the girls about intervening in safe situations and not serving as “bully messengers,” who carry messages from a bully to a victim, HarteNaus said.
The fifth-graders then made posters and spoke to both fourth- and fifth-grade classes about bullying.
To fourth-graders, the presenters stressed that next year, they would be the leaders at Lincoln, something the school emphasizes to its fifth-grade class each year.
“One of the focuses for fifth grade here at Lincoln School is that they build leadership and they start to recognize their role in situations, so that as they go into high school and junior high, they are prepared if they get into some difficult situations, how to respond, how to react,” Lincoln Principal Linda Schweikhofer said.
Discussing bullying with fifth-graders prepares them to be “Hadley ready,” HarteNaus said, something both Maddie and Noelle take seriously.
Both students said they were ready to take what they’ve learned to Hadley Junior High next year and share it with the sixth-grade girls from other elementary schools in the district that didn’t hold Girls’ Teas.
But first, they wanted to share that message with other members of the community.
Although some people may dress differently or come from a different background, that doesn’t mean they should be treated differently, the girls said. Those differences don’t define who they are, and everyone just needs to get to know each other, they said.
“We wanted everybody, whoever reads this in the paper, to know: Don’t be a bully,” Maddie said. “Just be who you are.”