WEBER COUNTY — Students from elementary to high school in Weber School District marked “Unity Day” Wednesday with a variety of activities designed to bring school communities together.
“Unity Day” is the primary event promoted by PACER’s National Bullying Prevention Center to mark National Bullying Prevention Month. The event is usually held the third or fourth Wednesday of October, according to the organization’s website, and activities associated with “Unity Day” are held in participating schools and districts across the country and world.
In Kim Parkinson’s fourth grade class at Bates Elementary in North Ogden, students got a chance to role-play bullying scenarios and how they might respond.
The vast majority of students in the class raised their hands to participate when given the chance to be part of the role plays.
By participating in the scenarios, students got to practice concrete skills that are part of the school’s “Stop-Walk-Talk” bullying prevention program.
If a student doesn’t like the way someone is treating them, they learn to first make eye contact with the person and tell them to stop while holding up their hand and making the “Bates stop signal.”
If the problem behavior from the other student continues, the student on the receiving end learns to walk away and ignore — and if they’re followed, then they go and tell an adult what is happening.
One exception is if students are in immediate danger. Students are told that they should immediately go to adults if they are in or witness a dangerous situation.
All of the staff have been trained how to respond in consistent ways when a child requests to talk, a handout for parents says. Adults will first ask students if they used the stop signal and remind them to do that if they haven’t.
If a student receives the stop signal from another student, they learn to stop what they’re doing, take a deep breath, count to five, and go on with their day, according the handout.
“(They’re) learning to take charge of themselves,” said school counselor Julie Smith. “... They’re in charge of their lives. Things don’t have to happen to them.”
Before the role play exercises, Smith showed a video and talked with students about different kinds of bullying, which can be physical, verbal or relational, like a child being repeatedly excluded from a group.
“Any time anyone does anything to hurt you ... it doesn’t matter if its physical or emotional, it hurts, regardless,” Smith said. “... Even if they don’t agree they’re hurting you, it needs to stop.”
Over at Orion Junior High in Harrisville, students were taking part in activities that bring them together, like passing along “random acts of kindness” cards. Students who get the card do a random act of kindness and then pass the card along to someone else, kind of like tag.
Students at Orion who wished to participate also carried around orange sheets of paper with lines for signatures, and the goal was to fill it with as many of their peers’ signatures as they could get. To get a signature from another student, they needed to meet someone new or learn something new about someone they already knew.
For being an elective activity, there were a surprising number of orange sheets floating around the cafeteria at lunch time.
Students said they liked the activities for “Unity Day.”
“It’s really cool,” said Hannah Barker, a ninth grader at Orion. “... It’s kind of a day where everyone can be nice to each other. For (the introduction sheets) you get to learn stuff about people that you wouldn’t know otherwise, and so it’s kind of cool just to get to know everyone.”
Kelsy Benson said she’d noticed people standing near the school’s locked doors, letting other students in when they needed it.
Barker said some of the acts of kindness were compliments or holding doors open.
Brinley Higbee, also a ninth grader, said she’d seen people zipping up others’ backpacks in the hallway.
“Lots of people accidentally leave their backpacks open,” Higbee said.
The school also chose the day to open a Student Art, Humanities and Culture Center, said Principal Matt Patterson.
“A lot of schools are doing maker spaces or STEM centers,” Patterson said. “I really wanted to create a place ... for kids to understand how to be a human being and interact with each other on a personal level.”
In the center, there’s an 86-inch flat-screen, smart-touch TV, a video camera and green screen, and tables that all have white-board tops, so students can write on them with white-board markers. There will also be a pantry with snacks for students who don’t have enough food at home.
They’re working on setting up a podcast station, student art display, a 3D printer and some virtual reality equipment, Patterson said, so a history class could do things like virtually walk through ancient Rome. Classes in all subjects will be able to sign up to use the space and equipment.
“(Students) can interact with other people across the world, other classrooms,” Patterson said. “... Really the big piece, is actually to tell their story. To be able to have kids say, ‘Hey, this is who I am, these are the struggles, the challenges, the things that I’m dealing with,’ that would allow us to be able to share that so that other kids had some empathy and some understanding of their situation.”