Students Promote Zero Tolerance for Violence
Yarmouth, Nova Scotia - John MacNeil is one of the very first teachers who began using Healthy Relationships in the classroom--before it received the endorsement of the Nova Scotia Department of Education. Now, almost three years later, the Health teacher at Yarmouth Junior High in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia reports that this curriculum has helped the school in its efforts to bring home the message of zero tolerance for violence. During violence-prevention week in 1995, Yarmouth Junior High received an honourable mention from the Ontario Ministry of Education and Training Violence-Prevention Secretariat.
MacNeil, who has been teaching Health for 25 years and PDR since it was introduced seven years ago, reports that acceptance of Healthy Relationships has been widespread among students, while parents have responded "very favourably."
In the first two years, he combined the lesson plans with a conflict resolution curriculum module (including a video and worksheets) from Sunburst of Pleasantville, New York. This year, MacNeil has recommended to the principal that the conflict resolution module be presented in grades five and six, and he is focussing on the Healthy Relationships curriculum. He is presenting grade seven as is, and he's combined selected activities from grades eight and nine.
The activities in grade seven that focus on getting in touch with emotions are important, says MacNeil, because a lot of kids are taught that there is only one way to deal with their anger--by striking back. "The kids we have now who lose it very quickly will strike out and be verbally abusive. We've checked their backgrounds and a lot haven't been taught anything else."
The newspaper articles that appear in grades eight and nine have been particularly effective in MacNeil's classes.
"After doing the Sunburst module, I wanted to get back to the media and date rape," he explains. "There are a lot of articles, especially in grades eight and nine, in this curriculum, and I spent a great deal of time going through them, deciding what would be of the most interest. A lot of those news articles are a wake-up call, especially the ones in grade nine. The kids say, 'I remember something about that on TV.' They read it, realizing that this actually happened." MacNeil has matched up some of the articles with videos on male-female abuse between teens, and he presents them together.
This year, he is asking students to clip relevant articles about family violence from the Chronicle-Herald newspaper and bring them to class.
"We have our share of domestic violence. There was a stabbing at the high school, and a murder-suicide happened just outside of town. These newspaper assignments offer something close to home."
In class, students analyze the attitudes behind crimes of violence. "We're spending a great deal of time on the whole Iceberg effect (the Anger Iceberg in Anatomy of Anger, Activity 1.3)," MacNeil reports. "Anger is only a product of what's underlying, which is the part you don't see."
John MacNeil, Health teacher at Yarmouth Junior High and his Grade seven class.
In the skits MacNeil's students develop in class, someone typically loses their temper and it's up to the class to determine the cause of the anger. "That kind of leads you into what we're doing now in grades eight and nine," he explains; "analyzing why it happened. Believe me, it's been fun. (This program) has become quite an attraction."
Despite the apparent success at Yarmouth Junior High, the $64,000 question remains: Is the curriculum actually making a difference in the students' attitudes and behaviours? MacNeil says it is. He adds that a cooperative learning approach has enabled students to feel freer to discuss violence at school, and this has led to a greater awareness and a decreased level of tolerance.
"Kids are talking about namecalling and pushing in the hall--why these things are happening, and what the options are." Just before Christmas, MacNeil passed out a survey and learned that "there is a tremendous amount of intimidation and namecalling in the school. So I said, let's introduce that as part of our program. Let's see why it's happening, and how they feel they can overcome it."
In the old days, a student who was mistreated might have complained to a teacher or administrator; MacNeil says that students are now coming up with solutions on their own.
"They're starting to deal with it rather than coming to us. We had an incident the other day where a kid lost his cool. We didn't make a big deal in front of him. The kids were concerned he would get suspended. Two or three of his friends got together and talked to him about it, to keep him from getting hauled into the office." Grade nine students are taking the leadership role, reports MacNeil. "I've told them, if you see it going on, rather than escalating it, see if you can help solve the problem. And it's getting through."
The kids who used to push, intimidate and call names are less inclined to try it, says MacNeil, because "they know the other kids in the hall are more aware, and that they don't have to tolerate it. We have a zero-tolerance policy for these forms of abuse."
N E W S L E T T E R
Curriculum Selected for Three-Year Evaluation
Update February 1997
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Students Promote Zero Tolerance for Violence
"The $64,000 question remains: Is the curriculum actually making a difference in the students' attitudes and behaviours? MacNeil says it is."
Going to the Heart of the Matter in Dade County, Florida
"The reason your curriculum is so good is because it touches the soul. It goes to the heart of the matter. It is not superficial."
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Curriculum Supplement: Gender Justice
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Organizations that have ordered Healthy Relationships
Update December 1997
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