Just like reading and writing and ‘rithmetic, the subject of respect is taught at Fair Haven’s Viola L. Sickles School all school year long.
It’s state mandated — at least a week. Dubbed aptly the Week of Respect, Sickles students participated in meaningful activities designed to reinforce lessons about kindness and acceptance.
A kickoff event was held on Sept. 30 and featured the “It’s OK to Be Different” assembly presented by the program’s creator and director Laraine Gaunt.
An educator whose now-grown children once attended Sickles, Gaunt introduced the It’s OK to Be Different program in 1978 to teach young children respect for all individuals and to promote understanding and tolerance.
It’s OK to Be Different is a year-long initiative at Sickles School and complements the tenets of the Responsive Classroom Philosophy already in place at all grade levels: Be a Buddy, Not a Bully (pre-kindergarten and kindergarten); Understanding Disabilities (first grade); Respect for Different Learners (second grade); and Celebrating Cultures (third grade).
“I love how It’s OK to Be Different continues to evolve with the times and is still so relevant, addressing so many issues currently affecting today’s young children,” said Suzanne Butler, the program’s co-chair along with Suzanne Duffy. “The program has actually become more important than ever.”
Butler was pleased to report that, based on its success at Sickles, It’s OK to Be Different is being introduced to many other schools in the area.
The four-day Week of Respect, included the following activities:
• Tuesday, Oct. 4 — A Stomp Out Bullying assembly was presented at Sickles School, and the suggested dress code was blue shirts and sneakers to “stomp” with;
• Wednesday, Oct. 5 — Students were encouraged to wear mismatched clothing to celebrate differences;
• Thursday, Oct. 6 — “Wear your favorite color” to reveal your mood and personality was the dress code, and students were encouraged to befriend someone else wearing the same color;
• Friday, Oct. 7 — Students were encouraged to show off the sports jerseys of their favorite teams, since “It’s no sweat to be a fan of respect” was the theme of the day.
Also during the Week of Respect, all Sickles students were given a letter “R” to decorate and display prominently in any location where they felt they needed a “respect” reminder.
And a new addition to the school’s playground — a Buddy Bench —was announced at the Week of Respect kickoff by Sickles School Principal Cheryl Cuddihy.
Buddy Benches are a measure to help fight loneliness and discourage exclusion on the playground. Children can sit on the Buddy Bench to signal that they are feeling lonely and would like to have some company or be included in a playground activity.
The first Buddy Benches were installed at a school in Pennsylvania, and the idea has now spread across the nation.
The purchase of a Buddy Bench for Sickles School students was made possible by a collaboration between the Fair Haven PTA and the Borough of Fair Haven.
— Edited press release from Fair Haven School District