Years ago, one of my sons was subjected to a bully at school. He slammed my son's locker door on his hand leaving a large welt.
The boy also had a hit list of boys that he planned to "take out" who planned to compete against his band in the seventh-grade talent show. When I called the school, the principal referred me to the youth officer assigned to the school. He tried to reassure me by telling me that the boy had just been given a 10-day suspension for another incident, so my son didn't need to be afraid.
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I wasn't reassured.
I decided to do a story about the talent show to learn more about this boy. I interviewed him and learned that he had absolutely nothing in his life that made him feel good about himself. Nothing. Playing the guitar was all he had and he was terrified that other kids in the talent show would take that away from him.
After talking with him and reassuring him, he ended up in the story. He never bothered my son again.
Since that time, we have seen tragedies in schools here and across the country. Schools take bullying much more seriously but it still exists, and it still has very sad consequences for those intimidated by such behavior.
Holy Cross School has made a commitment to stop bullying by opening the lines of communication between students. The school has instituted a program that incorporates family culture into the classroom setting.
Each class functions as a household for which they choose a name; a name that will be their household name throughout their time at Holy Cross. With names such as Courageous Saints, Guardians of the Faith, Warriors of the Word and Goliath Fighters, the classes have established identities that go beyond the classroom structure. Each household also develops a mission that describes how they act, learn, pray and love each other as members of a household family.
Another aspect of the Households program is "Lord's Day" in which the students take 15 minutes before Friday dismissal for praise and worship, intercessions, opening to the Gospel for the coming Sunday, thanksgiving prayer and a closing song.
"The intercessions and thanksgiving prayer continue to build an atmosphere of compassion, trust and family in which each is known and loved," said Holy Cross Principal Tricia Weis. "It is much harder to be unkind to someone when we know who he or she is, care about them and are praying for the difficulties they shared during Lord's Day."
The Rev. Dan Deutsch, monsignor, introduced the idea of households, a program he learned about during his sabbatical at Franciscan University.
"The households program was a campus program," said Deutsch. "Students were given the opportunity to share what was in their heart and to ask for help and ask for others to pray for them."
In the Holy Cross households, students are given time to share what is troubling them and also time to offer thanks. They also take time to review the rules of the household, rules that they created as a household.
"It's a very personalized program for each household," said Weis. "It is definitely working. We have seen a change in the students becoming more hospitable."
Having this program in place doesn't mean that there aren't consequences for actions or that the discipline has reverted to the teachers, rather than the principal. It just means that problems can be identified and students can have the opportunity to work things out for themselves.
"Trish (Weis) makes it her personal mission to make the entire building her office," said Deutsch. "She is accessible and friendly, reminding each of the children here that they are not alone, that we are a family and we can carry the weight of a problem with them."
The family feeling was evident in Michelle West's third grade class, known as the "Lambs of the Lord." The students were quick to hug the Monsignor who bantered with the boys about being best buddies with them.
Students shared their prayers of Thanksgiving, including their thanks for faith, shelter, food and family. A few gave thanks for the Chicago Bears and the Pittsburgh Steelers.
"I'm thankful for everyone here," said Declan Barth.
After reciting the rules of the household, the Lambs of the Lord ended the meeting with a song. Without anyone asking him to, Brandon Bryan got a song sheet and handed it to me. Then I talked with the members of the household about bullying.
The students identified some of the problems that they have dealt with. One student said that he had been bullied, but it was better when his classmates helped him. They talked about mean girls, kids making fun of others when they lose a game in basketball and kids saying hurtful things.
"When someone says something mean, you have to ask them to please stop and then walk away," said Claire Glemkowski.
Others mentioned talking to Weis or to their parents.
"When I am lying in bed and I have a problem, I discuss it with my older brother, Coleman, and he always has solutions," said Kilian Farrell. "That's 'Coleman' like the camping equipment but 'Kilian' isn't like the beer, I just have one 'l' in my name."
As the Lambs of the Lord piled on the winter clothes to face the frigid temperatures outside, young Kilian ran up and gave me a big hug.
"Thank you for that hug," I said, surprised by the outpouring of emotion
"It's National Hug Day," he said with a smile, brighter than the sun shining over Killarney.
For more information on Holy Cross Catholic School in Batavia, visit www.holycross-batavia.org/hccs/ or call (630) 593-5290.