Friday, April 27, 2018

Harmful Sexual Behavior Among Children

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(WARNING: Contains sensitive material.)

Personal Connection
            Recently, a close friend of mine confessed that her twenty-year old daughter had just told her that, while in middle school she'd been inappropriately touched by another girl her own age.
          When she was even younger, that same daughter also had an older girl force herself on top of her and grope her genitals, during a visit to a family friend's house.
        When asked why she hadn't told her mother about the incidents sooner, the daughter had replied that, I was always warned to watch out for grown- ups who might touch me inappropriately, or the white van with the stalker inside, or someone trying to lore me in their car with a puppy. 
        During that same conversation, the daughter had also admitted to being ashamed about the incidents and had blocked them out.
        When I was teenager, I remember learning that one of my cousins had 'made a pass' at their younger sibling. I was appalled by the news. It shook me to my core. I couldn't comprehend why anyone would do that to a loved one.  

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       Like my friend, I was stunned into sadness to hear her daughter's well-reasoned argument for not alerting anyone of the assaults. As adults, we constantly warn our children to be wary of grown-ups who may sexually abuse them: never conceiving that other children or siblings could be potential perpetrators. Our naiveté on this subject stems from the lack of disclosure to the authorities and the media, as well as our disbelief, that children are sexual beings capable of such harmful actions. 
            Stop It Now reports, that over a third of sexual abuse that occurs among children is committed by a person under 18 years old. Culture of Safety states, that the younger the victim of the abuse is, the higher the probability that the offender is a minor. These are disturbing statistics that require our undivided attention.

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Professional Connection
            As deplorable as it is to contemplate, sexual harm does indeed happen among adolescents and very young children. Sadly, I have been a witness to such events. One year in my kindergarten classroom, there were three sexual assaults among the students.
            The first one occurred shortly after the start of the school year. While sitting at a table, a little boy put his hand on the private part of the little girl beside him. He refused to move his hand when she protested and tried to push it off.
            The second one happened a month later, when another boy crawled under a table and kissed a little girl's private part.
            The third one occurred closer to the end of the school year and was the worst. A little boy, who was new to the class, forced a girl onto a shelf and lay on top of her. He put his hand down her underwear and wouldn't get off of her when she asked. Another child intervened and pulled him off of the little girl.

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           Needless to say, I was troubled by each occurrence, but the third horrified me the most. I was so heartsick by the episode; I took off the following day. At such a young age, I knew the boys couldn't appreciate the harmful consequences their behaviors were causing their classmates. Still, I needed time to collect myself, digest what had happened, and plan my lessons accordingly.
            I reported each incident to the school office and they were investigated by the administration. The first two boys were placed in the other kindergarten room, while the third remained in my classroom.       
            I was extremely uncomfortable with the third child being so close to the boy who had harmed her.  I couldn't understand why he was allowed to remain in my classroom, when the two other boys had been promptly removed.
            Apart from my reporting the third incident and receiving a notification of the boy's suspension, the school administration never communicated with me again about the event. No plan of action was discussed; no follow up by the administration regarding prevention and student safety. 
          The third boy stayed home for two days, and after a meeting with the school counselor, he returned to class.
            While I was home, the office had handled the situation, and it appeared that all parties involved were content with the outcome. 
            For my part, after dealing with the three sexual assaults, and a host of other socially, emotionally challenged students, I was too burnt out to pursue administration for their opinions. I did what I could through targeted lessons on good touch, bad touch, and by separating the third boy from the little girl.  
            Of course my lethargy, didn't assuage my concerns. 
            I felt responsible. I had been present for each episode. My assistant and I discovered the first two almost immediately. 
           However, during the third episode, my assistant had left for the day, and I was in the middle of a small group lesson on the other side of the room. I kept telling myself, "It's difficult to watch over and instruct 30 kindergartners by yourself". The mantra didn't ease my conscience.
            Often, children who commit these harmful acts, have been victims of sexual assault themselves, or have been regularly exposed to adult sexual activity or pornography. In addition, these same children may have either experienced or witnessed some form of physical or emotional abuse at home.
            In other cases, children are just exploring their curiosity about their bodies.
            So, how can you tell the difference between the two? 

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Distinguishing Between Sexual Harm and Curiosity
            Whether it is innocent curiosity or a visceral response to mistreatment, a child who performs a sexual action toward another child, can do serious harm. 
          One common way children explore sexuality is through playing games like "doctor". Once this expressive method is identified, it can be corrected with a conversation about respecting another's privacy and keeping everyone safe. 
          What is cause for alarm is when a child continues to display aggressive behavior, after being corrected.     
            Other potentially harmful behaviors include:
            *Older children spending a large amount of time with younger children.
            *Maintaining physical contact with another child who refuses the attention.
            *Forcing another child to have sexual intercourse.
            *A child speaking sexually to children or adults.
            *Children viewing child pornography.


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Awareness and Prevention
            Sexual harm among children is under reported, which in turn leaves children as vulnerable targets, unprepared to handle uncomfortable and confusing situations. Instead of alerting an adult, the victimized child will often internalize the incident, blaming himself for what happened. If left untreated, this feeling of self-guilt can lead to a lifelong pattern of depression, self-harm, and drug abuse.
            According to Dr. Gemma McKibbon, from the University of Melbourne, a proactive way to prevent child-on-child sexual harm is to teach age-appropriate sex education classes to elementary students, warning them that other children may hurt them in this way.
            Additional strategies to help protect children from mistreatment are:
            *Let children know there are trusted adults with whom they can talk.
            *Observe how children engage with each other.
            *Teach children to be respectful toward themselves and others.
            *Reach out to organizations that specialize in child safety and welfare for information to educate your entire family.
            *Design a safety program for your family and with your child's school. Parents Protect! offers a downloadable family safety plan booklet at: https://www.parentsprotect.co.uk/resources.htm.
            *Be vigilant. Images of violence and abuse are evident in video games, movies and television shows. Curtail how much of this media your child views.
            *Model appropriate social and familial behaviors.
            *Spend quality time with your child and have meaningful conversations.

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            If you suspect that your child or a child you know is harming other children get help immediately. Stop It Now! is an organization experienced with these behaviors.
            You can contact them at their national, toll-free line: 1-888-PREVENT (1-888-773-8368). 
               
            How would you deal with this situation in your family or classroom?

           

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Lemon Drop Literary: Book Review of The Big, Bad, Sad, Mad Meany

Lemon Drop Literary: Book Review of The Big, Bad, Sad, Mad Meany:                      The Big, Bad, Sad, Mad Meany, by Mary Griffith Chalupsky, is a rhyming story about a group of rodents livin...

Book Review of The Big, Bad, Sad, Mad Meany


         


           The Big, Bad, Sad, Mad Meany, by Mary Griffith Chalupsky, is a rhyming story about a group of rodents living happily together in a dumpster. Everything changes one day when a large rat named Tim comes along and takes over.
            Tim uses his great size and weight to intimidate the smaller rodents into following his rules and giving him their food. While Tim languishes about growing fatter, the other rodents are forced to do all the work. 

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            Anyone who questions Tim's harsh actions is punished, sometimes severely. Things become very grim for the rodents, who long for a hero to save them from their predicament with Tim.
            One night Tim holds a Ball and another, larger rat named Marco shows up.  Marco chastises Tim for his bullish behavior and tells him he must respect everyone or leave the dumpster.
            The rodents applaud Marco's heroism and once again the dumpster becomes a blissful place with enough food and equality for all.
            I enjoyed the moral presented in The Big, Bad, Sad, Mad Meany, that everyone is equal and bullying is wrong. The illustrations by Yuffie Yuliana added a colorful element that reinforced the actions and emotions of the characters. 
          Reading a book like this is a great way to introduce young readers to a difficult social issue like bullying. It can also spark meaningful conversations between parents and their children or teachers and their students.
            In terms of content, I felt the resolution to the characters' problems was a bit too easy, and didn't allow them any control of their situation. I would have liked to see the smaller rodents be more self-reliant in solving their problems with Tim, rather than waiting around for a hero to rescue them.
            Often in life, we have to be our own hero.
            Children need to be taught the skills to advocate for their own safety and well-being. They must learn to speak-up for themselves by asking a grown-up they trust for help or by working together with peers to find a fair and just resolution to their problem.
            All in all, The Big Bad, Sad, Mad Meany is a story with a good premise and a positive message.
           How do you discuss bullying with your children or students?

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Interview With Pre-K Head Start Teacher Shanna Padams


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           In March of this year, I had the opportunity to visit Ms. Shanna Padams's Pre-K Head Start classroom at Henry C. Lea Elementary School in Philadelphia, PA. 

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            At first glance Lea Elementary appears to be a tired, old building, but upon closer inspection, colorful student artwork draws your eye and posters with positive messages remind you of the hope a public education can bring.
            After being buzzed into the school, I went straight to the main office, where the secretary, who asked for my name, was expecting me. I was asked to sign in and then a polite young man from third grade guided me through the maze-like halls to Ms. Padams's classroom.
            During our brief trek, I was pleasantly surprised to learn, that while the building's interior needed updating, Lea Elementary is able to offer its students music and drama classes. Due to a lack of proper funding and overcrowded class-sizes, many art programs across the district have met the chopping block.

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            I arrived at Ms. Padams's classroom and found it neatly arranged with educational learning centers and child-sized tables and chairs.
            Like any properly managed Pre-K Head Start class, her students knew the classroom expectations and were well on their way to developing the soft skills required for Kindergarten, that many children lack upon entering. Soft skills are intrapersonal abilities like sitting on the carpet during a read-aloud and raising a quiet hand to ask a question.     
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            Head Start, founded in 1965, is a free program for three and four-year-olds, whose family meets the financial criteria established by the federal government. Through various services like early learning, health, and family well-being, the program helps the child participant and their family. 
            In 2013, The School District of Philadelphia cut its Head Start program in half. Since then many children have been enrolled in educational programs that don't have the same rigorous curriculum and accountability for its teachers that Philadelphia does.
            As a former Pre-K Head Start and Kindergarten teacher, I can say with confidence that children who attend a high-quality Head Start program are better prepared for the social and academic challenges of Kindergarten.
            Those with special needs have a smoother transition into Kindergarten. In most cases, their Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) have been established, which allows for support services to better continue when they leave the Pre-K Head Start Program. 
            Ms. Padams was kind enough to answer a few questions about her teaching experiences and to offer advice for aspiring educators. 

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            1.   Why did you become a teacher?
            When I was in third grade, my family moved from Pennsylvania to New Jersey.  My new school assessed me and decided to put me in a mid-level reading group, even though I tested higher. With all of the other changes going on, they didn’t want school to be too hard for me.
             From the beginning, my fourth grade teacher, Mr., Moore, knew I could do more.  He believed in me from day one.  He challenged me in the best ways possible.  He taught me not to settle, that I could do anything I put my mind to.  Most importantly, he gave me the confidence and sense of self-worth I needed to succeed.
             Ever since meeting Mr. Moore, I knew I wanted to be a teacher like him.  I wanted to help other students believe in themselves and their ability to succeed.
       
     2.   What grade do you teach?        
             Pre-K since January 2005
    
      3.   What is your favorite thing about teaching?
            I love how students grow and change, especially when I am able to teach them for two years.  It is amazing to see how much progress they make.
    
       4.     What is your least favorite thing about teaching?
             Paperwork.  It is never ending, especially when it comes to recording anecdotes and lesson planning.
    
       5.   Do you have any advice for teachers just starting their careers?
            Ask questions.  It’s okay to ask for help.  Managing a classroom is very challenging. Ask co-workers and supervisors for ideas.  Check on pinterest and other educational websites for ideas.
    
       6.   How has the lack of funding in public schools affected you and your students?
             I believe the biggest impact is on the conditions in our buildings. Our building is over 100 years old.  The roof leaks every time it rains.  There are holes in the celling in the hallway from the rain.  The pipes leak, too.  The toilets don’t work properly.  Also, our custodial staff is always short-handed, so bathrooms and other areas are not cleaned properly.
    
       7.   In light of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, are you concerned about security in your school?
            Yes.  We finally have one full-time school police officer. We have some cameras in the school. Though I am not sure where they are located.  A staff member usually supervises the front desk near the main entrance and guests need to sign in and show ID.
            However, we have no metal detectors in the school, so anyone can walk in with a weapon or other harmful items.
    
     8.   How do you feel about teachers carrying guns to school?
             I am not comfortable with that idea at all. 
    
     9.   Why not?
           I do not have the proper training to do so, and have no desire to use a gun, especially around children in a school.
    
      10.   If you could ask politicians to do one thing to help students in our country, what would it be?
            Invest in our schools.  Provide the funds to help us hire adequate numbers of school police officers, NTAs (to monitor hallways, etc.), school counselors, and psychologists.
    
      I would like to thank Ms. Padams for her time and insight. I hope this interview helps people understand the challenges public school teachers and their students face everyday. In order to change the state of public education in our country, we must listen to those people on the frontlines, the teachers.