Students get a lesson in 'class'

Local middle school focuses on respect, anti-bullying
By: Andrew Westrope, Staff Writer
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“Class” was the word of the day at E.V. Cain Charter Middle School in Auburn on Wednesday.

E.V. Cain’s student-organized “Touch of Class” program kicked off again this year with an assembly and multimedia presentation, with other activities to follow today and Friday. The program is part of the school’s annual campaign to help students rise to a higher standard of character.

Leadership teacher Carol Stryker said the program has evolved over time, but its fundamental goal hasn’t changed in more than 20 years.

“The kids always want to have a banquet, they want to have a dance, but then we try to do activities all along to keep in mind what the whole idea is – to become classier,” she said. “To start thinking about how we can become better and be nicer to each other.”

The school’s website describes Touch of Class as an attempt to foster in students “mutual respect, kindness, effort, and personal pride.” Many of the students understand the lesson is necessary, though some felt it was too narrow.

“It shows what people can be like when they’re nice and not being jerks,” Chandler Conway said, a leadership student who helped plan some of the week’s entertainment.

Anastasia Neumann, a 13-year-old classmate, said the program ignores several key factors in student behavior, like home life, but still has a positive influence.

“It’s helpful because it helps kids stop being rude and helps them be a better person,” she said.

Unconvinced the school has a bullying problem, 13-year-old leadership student Joey Klopotek attributed many instances of student misbehavior to “just people being rude.” Having disagreed with teachers over what to put in the program this year, Klopotek said any attempt to improve student culture should also include something to discourage teachers from putting too much stress on students.

“If the teachers were a little lower-key, not as high-speed low-drag as they are right now, kids would be in a better mood more often,” he said. “It would just be much more harmonious this week.”

Students were encouraged to wear clothes for a college or future dream to school today, and attend student-staff teambuilding activities in the afternoon. The traditional lunch banquet and dances are scheduled for Friday, with flowers and dance tickets for sale in the amphitheater before school.

Stryker hoped the bonding activities would help the students see each other and their teachers in a different light, as fellow human beings with their own strengths and foibles. She said it would be a timely lesson for sixth, seventh and eighth graders in a difficult phase of life.

“It’s a time in their life when they’re out of flux, and they’re not really sure about things, and their friends are changing all the time,” she said. “A lot of things are changing in their life, so if they can start thinking about being more positive and realize they’re there to help each other … it’s just really an important time to capitalize on some of these ideas.”

Coincidentally, Weimar Hills School will begin its own week-long anti-bullying program, “Be the Change” week, on Monday.

Inspired by a famous quote from Mahatma Gandhi – “Be the change that you wish to see in the world” – Weimar Hills’ program starts with anti-bullying lessons for sixth through eighth graders Monday, then an assembly led by motivational speaker Phil Boyte on Tuesday. Physical education classes will incorporate teambuilding exercises on Wednesday, fourth and fifth graders will get anti-bullying lessons on Thursday, and the school will have “spirit day” with school colors and lunchtime activities on Friday.

School resource officer Deputy Mark Fain will also hold a public seminar in the gym at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday to teach parents about online bullying and internet safety.

School counselor Sarah Graham said the school has decided to condense its usual anti-bullying measures throughout the year into a single week, with the hope of making a bigger impression.

“It’s the most important thing to me on our campus. When students feel safe, they’re able to learn. We want them to feel safe emotionally, physically, all of that,” she said. “The minority are victims in bullying, but the majority are bystanders … so that’s really the key piece: the bystanders have the power … to stand up and do the right thing, and then we give them the tools to do that, because it’s a hard thing to do.”