CAPE ELIZABETH – Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends.”

Stan Davis, a nationally known bully prevention specialist, is using those words as inspiration as he tours schools across the nation in an effort to make bullying and teasing a thing of the past.

“The idea is to focus on the acts of kindness by all rather than the acts of unkindness by the minority,” said Davis, who was at Pond Cove Elementary School in Cape Elizabeth on Monday to spread that message to staff, students, teachers and parents.

Focusing on positive behavior rather than negative, said Davis, who retired recently after 41 years as a family therapist and school counselor, improves the learning environment for all students. To create that positive learning environment, he told a group of 19 students in Fran Vita-Taylor’s third-grade class, students have to do two things: listen to others and say only kind things about people.

“If you say something mean to somebody else, that may keep that person from learning,” he told the group.

Davis founded Stop Bullying Now! In 1997, which provides research-based strategies to reduce bullying in schools. He also partnered with Dr. Charisse Nixon, an associate professor of development psychology at Penn State, to create the Youth Voice Project, a large-scale research project in which some 13,000 students in more than 30 schools were asked how they dealt with being bullied.

“We wanted to get away from the thought that the adults knew how to solve issues,” he told the class when explaining the Youth Voice Project and its findings. “We liked the idea that kids knew how to fix these problems themselves.”

Davis asked students in the group how they dealt with someone who was picking on them. Their responses ranged from telling an adult, either at school or at home, to confronting the person directly.

Other ideas, which were brought up through the Youth Voices Project responses, included ignoring it, making a joke or retaliating.

Nevertheless, telling an adult, Davis said, remains one of the best options, especially with younger children.

Davis told the group that watching out for fellow classmate also helps in certain situations.

In fact, he told the students, nearly 70 percent of the respondents in the Youth Voice Project said they have done something to help someone else who was lonely or being teased.

“When you help someone else, you make two people happy,” he said of the reciprocal nature of helping people.

“Remember,” he told the Pond Cove class before meeting with faculty, “it is your job in your workplace, or school, to make sure everybody can learn by being kind and encouraging to everybody.”

While Davis talked to third- and fourth-graders, most of his day-long visit to the school was spent meeting with members of a core team made up of school counselor Bri Gallagher, who helped to bring Davis to the school; school Principal Tom Eismeier; social worker Patty Blankenship; and teachers from all four grade levels, as well staff from instructional support and allied arts.

Gallagher said the core team would help train other staff members by sharing what they learned from Davis’ visit, which was covered by a grant from the Pond Cove Parents Association.

She said she hopes Davis’ presentation in the school would help the school’s staff and teachers be more consistent with how they deal with bullying and other behavior problems at the school.

“Right now, our response can be inconsistent, but that is not to say that students are being let off the hook for their peer aggression,” Gallagher said. “We just need a better, more consistent approach.”

Gallagher said what she likes most about Davis’ work is that it focuses on creating a positive educational environment, where all students can grow and succeed, and aims at building a connection between children and adults in the school.

She said according to a survey on the school environment that went to third- and fourth-graders and staff, the school already has a good learning environment.

“For the most part, the kids say they feel safe here,” she said.

The staff intends to use the results of the survey and ideas from Davis’ presentation to develop an action plan on how to deal with negative behavior while encouraging positive behavior.

“Stan’s approach is very much school by school,” she said. “It is not a one-size-fits-all type of thing. We’ll figure out what works best for our school.”

Hands leap up as Stan Davis, a nationally known bully prevention specialist, speaks to third-graders at Pond Cove Elementary School in Cape Elizabeth on Monday. Davis spent the entire day at Pond Cove, speaking with staff members, parents and third- and fourth-grade students. (Photo by Rich Obrey)


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