Building a Community

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Students work on an activity as part of Start With Hello Week, during which kids were encouraged to reach out to their classmates.

Bullying and its active prevention continue to stay at the forefront of educators’ minds, especially as they recognize National Bullying Prevention Month in October.

The Malibu Times has reported on local schools’ efforts to combat bullying and prioritize mental health as part of an ongoing series throughout the month.

This week, we spoke to Webster Elementary School Principal Patrick Miller about the school’s efforts to promote a positive learning environment.

The school’s vision statement starts off with: “At Webster Elementary School, staff, parents and community members work together to create a joyous and caring learning environment in which all students are supported, challenged and successful.”

Miller embraces community building as a way to fulfill this vision.

In an email to The Malibu Times, Miller stated, “we work very hard to foster positive relationships and a strong community so that every student is safe, is known and valued.”

To start off the school year, kids came together in circles to discuss student behaviors. At these talks, faculty emphasized the “Webster 4 Big Rules,” which are:

1. We will treat others how we want to be treated, with kindness and respect.

2. We will keep our hands, feet and items to self.

3. We will follow directions.

4. We will use appropriate voice levels and walk throughout our campus.

These rules, and other expectations, are also detailed in the school’s code of conduct.

The school uses a program called Character Counts. A hallmark of the program is its “Six Pillars of Character,” also referred to as TeRRiFiCC (trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring and citizenship).

Webster also implements the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program, developed by a Swedish professor. The program includes components on varying levels, including school, classroom, individual and community. 

The program also involves a questionnaire given to students which, in turn, “helps guide our supervision efforts, and promotes upstander behaviors,” Miller said.

On a day-to-day basis, classes will hold morning meetings or discussions, which vary in topic. Toward the beginning of the year, the meetings focus on the students getting to know one other. Other times, the meetings are focused on suggestions from the bullying-prevention program.

Webster also enables its leadership students to work on a creating a positive school culture through service projects and events. 

For example, Miller described Start With Hello Week in late September, where kids were encouraged to simply say “hello” and reach out to their peers. The idea stemmed from Sandy Hook Promise, a nonprofit organization dedicated to developing mental health and wellness programs in light of the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting.

These themed weeks—“positive promotion campaigns”—are designed to reinforce positive character traits in students.

The Boys & Girls Club of Malibu’s Wellness Center also partners with local schools—including Webster—to provide mental health and wellness services. 

“As a result of this partnership, many students now benefit from 1-to-1 interpersonal counseling support during the day,” the principal stated, later adding, “In addition to individual counseling, the Wellness Center is facilitating Smart Girls groups around confidence and empowerment and helping with lunchtime social group.”

At the core of all these programs, Miller said: “We want every student to have positive friendships with peers and to have an adult that they can go to.”