April 4, 2005 – "Bullying is a major problem in the schools," Gloria John, a guidance counselor at the Juanita Gardine elementary school said. "It causes students to stay home from school," as often as "two days a week" in some cases, she said. John was one of the teachers who attended a workshop on reducing violence and bullying in the classroom on Monday. The workshop was presented by John Munro, education program director of the Alliance of Guardian Angels, at the Sand Castle on the Beach Hotel conference room in Frederiksted.
John said students as young as kindergarten can be bullies. She said she knows a kindergarten bully. "The children complain that he hits them and beats them up." John said she "didn't realize that happens at such a young age." She encourages students who are being harassed to "find a safe haven" near teachers and other adults. Schoolmates constantly harass another student, who is in the fourth grade. The student says he "is singled out" and terrorized "when no one is around," John said.
John Munro, a former elementary, middle school and high school teacher, presented the workshop. He is an assistant professor at St. Paul's College in New Jersey, and the president of the Board of Education in Harrington, N.J. Munro is visiting St. Croix along with Guardian Angels Arnaldo Salinas and John Ayala. The trio is on island at the request of Eileen Pennick, program manager for the Department of Education's Safe and Drug Free Schools program.
"The most common form of bullying is not physical – its exclusion, and name calling." Munro said. "It's here, it's everywhere." Munro said since the Columbine shooting in 1999, violence prevention and education professionals have been trying to find a way to get to the root of the problem and eradicate it. "Bullying," Munro says, "is the greatest thief of childhood; it is the number one problem that distracts from their learning."
Munro has been associated with the Guardian Angels for three years and is charged with introducing the anti-bulling workshops into interested schools. Munro said the workshop helps the teacher identify signs of bullying behavior and its effects; recognize the differences between bullying and "kidding around;" differentiate the use of "verbal weapons" by students; diffuse potentially dangerous encounters, and gain successful intervention skills for violent and at-risk behaviors. Munroe said educating the teachers is just one part of the program. "We are going to create a Guardian Angels Education Academy in the schools and teach students to be Ambassadors of Kindness,'" Munro said. The students will learn about bullying and the impact bullying has on themselves and others. They will recognize the importance of sticking up for each other and denying bullies an audience. The students will be able to report incidences to authority figures, "with their anonymity intact," Munroe said.
Pennick said the workshops would continue through the week, with separate days for elementary, junior high and high school teachers, counselors and school monitors. "All schools were notified, and the principals selected the teachers and professionals who are attending," Pennick said.
Pennick got the idea for the Guardian Angels to conduct the workshops when she met them at the St. Croix Educational Complex in November, on their first trip to St. Croix. (See "Police Commissioner Endorses Guardian Angel Efforts").
Salinas, a senior director and founding member of the 24-year-old organization, and Ayala, Guardian Angels Mid-Atlantic regional director stationed in Washington, D.C., were initially invited by the St. Croix Anti-Crime Task Force to establish a chapter on island.
On April 10, the first group of St. Croix Guardian Angels will graduate in a ceremony at the Sand Castles on the Beach Hotel. Curtis Sliwa, founder and president of the Guardian Angels, will officiate.
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