SALT LAKE CITY — Dressed in a black suit and a light blue, button-up shirt with cufflinks, Salt Lake City Councilman Charlie Luke high-fived community members during a rousing game of foursquare shortly before a workshop aimed at making recess safe, fun and inclusive Tuesday at Meadowlark Elementary.
The workshop was run by Playworks, a nonprofit company, in an attempt to teach community members games and tips to help students learn socially acceptable behavior. The company partners with schools to teach children recess games that will show them how to resolve conflicts, include others in their play and become more physically active.
The Playworks workshop and Luke’s involvement are part of an anti-bullying initiative in Salt Lake City. Luke's interest in eradicating bullying behavior began after a neighbor asked him to help with her son, a student at Highland High, who was being picked on during and after school. Through Luke's and others' involvement, the behavior stopped.
“That showed me at the time that this is something that we can end,” he said.
However, he said, students still need to learn how to navigate inevitable disagreements and be able to tell the difference between an argument and actual bullying.
“There’s a huge difference between bullying and regular youthful conflict,” Luke said. “Bullying is something that is more persistent and really deals with the power struggle.”
The Salt Lake-based initiative joined forces with Flip The Script Now, a campaign that partners with community organizations to raise awareness of bullying and provide resources for parents, educators and students who are being picked on or who are themselves bullying.
Playworks, one of Flip the Script Now's community partners, teaches students the rules of several games. It also arms them with tools for managing conflicts that arise, such as Rock, Paper, Scissors to help resolve the dispute of who should go first. During recess, students are encouraged by the Playworks program coordinator to play, whether in a large or small group or independently.
Because recess can be a place where students are picked on or excluded, intervention similar to Playworks' structure is often key to creating a bully-free community.
Older students, such as Meadowlark sixth-grader Muhamed Yussef, are recruited to be junior coaches. Their role is to initiate games and help students have fun. So far, it seems as if the program is working.
In 2011, five Utah schools, including Meadowlark Elementary, had a full-time Playworks professional in house providing structured games and training. Within four months, studies showed a sharp decrease in the amount of bullying, fewer disciplinary office referrals and an increase in student academic participation, among other positive results.
Ask fourth-grader Dareliz Rodriguez about her favorite game and she’ll talk all about flag tag, a game introduced to the students by their Playworks program coordinator Jamie Pimster that teaches rules, respect and cooperation.
Dareliz knows about bullying and can describe not only what bullying is — according to her, when kids don’t let another kid play or punch them or kick them or say bad things behind their back — but also what it takes to be an advocate for someone being bullied.
“Stand up and be an ally to your friend,” she said. “You will take care of other people and help them if they are being bullied or hurt.”
These are all things she has learned as a student at Meadowlark and are another step toward eradicating what Luke said was “endemic in our community” by encouraging positive play and making bullying a socially unacceptable behavior.