Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of September 12, 2005
Bullies won over with kindness
Anne Fitzgerald School earns national recognition for program that curtails discipline problems
By RAMON GONZALEZ
WCR Staff Writer
Bullying and fighting are becoming things of the past at Anne Fitzgerald Elementary School thanks to an innovative program that targets high-need students and treats them with kindness.
Principal Dan Cavanagh launched Project RISK (Responding to Individual Students with Kindness) last year and says it has transformed his northeast Edmonton school. "This has been a phenomenally successful program," he says. "We have no discipline (problems) happening anymore."
The program is also responsible for turning struggling students into good ones and for higher school achievement tests.
Under the confidential program, staff identify highest-needs children (about 10 per cent of the student population of almost 150) and gives them extra attention.
In September, each staff member, including secretarial, custodial and library staff, is assigned an "at-risk" child (who is unaware of the assignment) and follows him or her throughout the year, connecting at an emotional level with the child at least twice a week and reporting back to other staff once a month.
Connections have included a "non-reader" helping librarian Monica Ford set up the library in the morning and a teacher eating lunch with a child. The program is rooted in the philosophy that one more significant adult in the life of each of these children can make the difference.
Parent Magazine recently named Anne Fitzgerald, 699 Clareview Rd., one of Canada's top 40 schools because of the successful RISK program.
School turned around
Cavanagh, the principal for the last three years, got the idea for the program from a high school principal who turned a tough Illinois school around by attaching an adult to all the freshmen (Grade 10 students) that came in.
"That's where I got the idea but it has been modified and changed and criteria has been added for elementary schools," he said. "But it is definitely something that could work in schools across North America."
Once the staff decided they wanted to take part in the project, they set up the criteria for who would fit the definition of an at-risk child or highest-need child. It would be students who had had a recent upheaval in the family, such as separation or divorce, as well as socio-economically challenged children and students with behavioural problems.
"And so we defined those children together and it ended up being about 10 per cent of our population," Cavanagh said. "So this could be done in any school because 10 per cent of your population is basically what you have for staff as well."
Each member of the staff adopted one child and made a connection with their charge at least twice a week.
"What we found is staff members were going out and getting lunch at Tim Hortons, bringing it in and sitting down with their at-risk child just finding out about their life, what's happening in their life," Cavanaugh explained.
"Once a month we would meet in a staff meeting during our professional learning community time and they would give a one-minute update on their child. And that's where the rubber hit the road because every staff member found out about every one of our neediest children in the school."
Ford, the librarian for the past two years, calls the program a win-win situation because "it helps students feel better about themselves and makes us feel good (too)"
She connected with two youngsters last year - one who didn't like to read and hated Math and another who had given up on sciences. She treated them with kindness and respect and stimulated their intellectual curiosity.
Shortly after teaming up with Ford, the non-reader was reading books, doing his homework, working on his spelling and getting 80s and 90s in Math. The youngster who didn't like sciences was getting 80s and 90s in sciences and began to join in the experiments with his classmates.
Parents didn't know about the RISK program last year but they know about it now and they are all supportive, noted the principal. "I haven't had anybody come forward and say, 'Has my child been identified?'"
Cavanagh decided to set up RISK because the school is committed to kindness and "there was a lot more discipline (problems) in the office than I cared to see." They included bullying, fighting in the playground, rough play, name-calling and inappropriate language.
"Last year 90 per cent of it was gone," he said.
School secretary Marie-Jeanne Garrity said she believes the program has affected all the students in the school. "Everybody seems more kind toward each other since the program started."
Last year Garrity made a connection with a girl who needed emotional support. "She needed to feel loved and we thought she would benefit in having a connection with an adult," she said.
Garrity would approach the girl almost daily, talking to her as often as she could.
"I didn't hang out with her; I just paid more attention to her," she explained. "When I saw her in the hallway, I would always say hello to her and I would ask her how her day was and things like that. I would be extra kind towards her."
Did it help? "It certainly didn't hurt her," Garrity said. "I would like to think I made a connection with this girl and that she will always remember me as the secretary that was kind toward her."
The RISK program will start again after the staff identifies the highest-need children.
Letter to the Editor - 10/10/05