Sixth-graders take younger pupils un­der their wing as part of school ini­tia­tive against bul­ly­ing

Kathimerini English - - Focus - BY LINA GIANNAROU

“Stella, I love you! I don’t want you to go. I want you to stay. I want you to stay with me. I love you! I don’t want you to go to sev­enth grade. Please stay! Love, Evita.” I couldn’t help smil­ing as I read the card, writ­ten in a child’s hand with a dif­fer­ent color magic marker for ev­ery line. Evita is a first-grader and Stella a sixth-grader at the same school. They’re not sis­ters but for one year the were al­most as close as fam­ily.

Their bond arose from a cam­paign called “Adopt a First-Grader” that is be­ing im­ple­mented in sev­eral schools across Greece, both pub­lic and pri­vate, on the ini­tia­tive of teach­ers and prin­ci­pals who re­al­ized that the best an­ti­dote for bul­ly­ing was right there in the schools. The idea is that a sixth-grader “adopts” a first-grader at the start of the school year and takes on the re­spon­si­bil­ity of pro­tect­ing the younger child through­out, of­fer­ing ad­vice, help­ing out with prob­lems, and mak­ing him or her feel pro­tected and safe.

This year saw a sharp rise in the num­ber of schools adopt­ing the scheme, thanks mainly to the suc­cess of a post by well-known Greek blog­ger Aspa On­line (as­paon­line.gr), also Evita’s mother, who re­lated the “adop­tion” ex­pe­ri­ence through the eyes of her daugh­ter, also shar­ing the card through so­cial net­work­ing sites.

As she says in her post, one of the most touch­ing mo­ments of the endof-year cer­e­mony was when the first­graders and the sixth-graders ap­peared to­gether.

“The pairs come up hold­ing hands and present some­thing to­gether. They may sing, they may dance or they may play a game. No year is the same; some­thing is al­ways dif­fer­ent but the mo­ment of farewell is al­ways very touch- ing. There are hugs, flow­ers and tears – of­ten from the par­ents too!”

Read­ing about th­ese lovely mo­ments, teach­ers from ev­ery cor­ner of Greece came for­ward and sug­gested that the “Adopt a First-Grader” ini­tia­tive be in­tro­duced at their schools. Among them were Eleni Peppa and Nelly Kossyva, teach­ers at a pub­lic ele­men­tary school in Loutraki, on the Gulf of Corinth.

“We re­ally liked it and de­cided to adapt the idea to the needs of our own school, us­ing our imag­i­na­tions,” says Peppa.

The idea was very well re­ceived by the stu­dents. “To­day, for ex­am­ple, the sixth-graders took the ini­tia­tive on their own to play with the first-graders in the yard. Other times they make lit­tle gifts for them, play with them at break-time and walk them to the prin­ci­pal’s of­fice if they need some­thing. I think it’s the best re­sponse to bul­ly­ing,” Peppa adds.

The two teach­ers put the idea to the stu­dents in the sixth grade and let them de­cide whether or not to do it.

“We didn’t force it on them. We told them about it and gave them the free­dom to choose for them­selves. We gave them a day to think about it. If we had en­forced it we may even have had the op­po­site re­sult. Fi­nally, with the ex­cep­tion of a very small per­cent­age, most of the stu­dents were ex­cited about it,” Peppa says.

In the days that fol­lowed, they agreed on the rules of “adop­tion” and drafted the rel­e­vant “mem­o­ran­dum of co­op­er­a­tion.”

The kids in first grade loved the idea, of course.

“We told the first-graders that the older kids would look af­ter them and they got re­ally ex­cited,” re­counts Peppa. “We are still in the early days of the pro­gram but I be­lieve it will go well. If we have good in­ten­tions and we cul­ti­vated the ground prop­erly, suc­cess is cer­tain.”

It is a sim­ple idea, but, as Aspa writes, it’s “the sim­ple ideas make life more beau­ti­ful.”

The younger chil­dren feel pro­tected by their older bud­dies through­out the year and can ask them for ad­vice.

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