Focusing on kindness, inclusion on Unity Day | News | Palo Alto Online |


Focusing on kindness, inclusion on Unity Day

Palo Alto schools take part in national bullying prevention event for the third year

At Juana Briones Elementary School, students are being taught to be "bucket fillers," rather than "bucket dippers" – people who are kind to others and themselves, keeping their symbolic, invisible buckets filled, rather than bullies whose behavior drains others' buckets.

The bucket terms come from a picture book called, "Have You Filled a Bucket Today? A Guide to Daily Happiness for Kids," which Juana Briones students read and discussed just in time for Unity Day, a national bullying-awareness event.

Across Palo Alto on Wednesday, students, teachers, staff, administrators and parents donned orange shirts — the color of Unity Day — and participated in a range of activities around bullying prevention.

Students and parents wrote messages on paper chains about how to make their schools safer, more welcoming and supportive environments. Students read books that focused on themes like unity, diversity, inclusion, positive behavior and being an "upstander" rather than a bystander.

At Juana Briones on Wednesday morning, a group of girls created a poster that read in orange text, "While one person can speak against bullying, our message is stronger when we come together to make a difference." At Duveneck Elementary School, classes made balloon-shaped posters with messages about unity that were then attached to eight large balloons and released into the sky above the school.

Unity Day, which began as a week-long awareness event created by the PACER National Bullying Prevention Center in 2006, was first launched in Palo Alto in 2013 by a parent in the midst of several federal civil-rights investigations into bullying complaints made against the school district.

Bullying has been a subject of intense focus since then in Palo Alto, as the district office worked for more than a year to draft a new bullying policy, pledged enhanced training around the issue and individual sites sought to make shifts in school climate and culture.

At Juana Briones, students spent the morning writing responses to two prompts – "What can you do to make the school a safer place?" or "write a quality that makes you unique and proud of who you are as an individual" – on strips of orange construction paper. Responses ranged from "working to be bucket fillers" to "saying nice things to people when they are sad" and "stick up for yourself."

The school then linked all of the strips together into a long chain of messages and draped it around a tree at the front of the school.

Briones students also watched in class on Wednesday a video narration of a book called "Dare! A Story about Standing Up to Bullying in Schools," in which the main character works through finding the courage to "dare" to stand up to a bully at school. Briones third, fourth- and fifth-graders recorded themselves reading the book and created the video, which has different voices narrating each page.

The book is one of a series on bullying written from different perspectives – from a bystander, the victim and the bully. Briones Principal Lisa Hickey said she plans to purchase the other books in the series for future readings this year.

Hickey said her school has seen an increase in reports of bullying incidents in recent years – "and we don't see that as a bad thing because we think it is students who are able to say 'Hey, that's not right, and we need help.'

"That's what we encourage, is that students come and get help from adults when they need it instead of just letting it go," Hickey said.

Across town at Duveneck, a sea of orange-clad elementary students sat on the school's blacktop at lunch, listening to Principal Chris Grierson talk about diversity, inclusion and upstander behavior.

Parents were also invited to the school earlier in the morning for an informal coffee conversation with Grierson and Superintendent Max McGee. Grierson said the conversation began around Unity Day, but evolved into a discussion about topics like balancing social-emotional health with academic achievement, and how to develop resiliency.

Duveneck this year began a schoolwide practice called "responsive classrooms," a new social-emotional learning program that is more simple than it sounds.

In responsive classrooms, teachers start the day by greeting each student individually, inviting them to share (something that might be going on at home or at school, or even just expressing that they woke up in a bad mood), participating in some sort of activity or game and ending with a "morning message" that sets the tone for the day, said Grierson, who thinks the practice produces connection – students feel heard, and teachers get to know them better – as well as reduces stress.

Hickey said she hopes that consistent messaging throughout the school district on topics around bullying prevention communicates to students, staff and parents alike that their efforts should reach beyond wearing orange one day each year.

"This is one day where we unite together, but really we want to send the message that this is just how we want to operate in our schools every day," Hickey said. "We want schools to be a safe environment for everybody."

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13 people like this
Posted by Unity and Irony
a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 21, 2015 at 4:41 pm

Juana Briones was always such a kind school, and took a lot of kids who left Barron Park when they were having bullying problems (no longer, BPE is a lovely place now from everything I hear. I have also heard the same of Duveneck, that things have gotten better.) Briones I think had a lot of teacher retirement for a few years there, though. Not sure if that affected the culture.

On the other hand, the experience of middle school for us made it what I would call "Irony Day" more than unity day. The day should include anti-bullying efforts among teachers and staff, not just students.

4 people like this
Posted by And the agony
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 21, 2015 at 7:28 pm

Keep in mind both Briones and Duveneck had serious issues with special ed and OCR. It's comical to see both schools and Glenn McGee doing a dog and pony show because those would be the two schools most fitting for it. I had better be careful, though, because also keep in mind that McGee and the board are spending our money to lawyer up, not for our kids, but just for them.

Like this comment
Posted by Bernie
a resident of another community
on Oct 21, 2015 at 9:18 pm

[Post removed.]

9 people like this
Posted by Parent of 3
a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Oct 22, 2015 at 12:13 am

Duveneck doesn't/didn't have much bullying and we had been there since 2007. Teachers are good with working on stopping it. We ran into a few while we were there and the teachers took our complaints seriously. There is no school with no bullying.

Unity Day is just another feel-good activity but does not change behavior.

4 people like this
Posted by Parent of 3
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 24, 2015 at 8:44 am

Duveneck does not have a school wide practice of "Responsive Classroom." Mr.Grierson loves to pretend things are happening that are not.

3 people like this
Posted by Parent of 3
a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Oct 24, 2015 at 1:05 pm

Agree with other Parent of 3 that Duveneck's principal, Grierson, doesn't deal with bullying as well as he should. He's not a strong personality, and it takes a stronger personality to deal with bullying. We dealt with him with a bullying issue and the other parents flattened him like a steamroller. Fortunately, the parents cared more about their son's reputation so they halted the bullying on their own. The teachers are the key there.

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