Avon school counselor hopes to replace bullying with bonds

Pine Tree Elementary School counselor Kelli Hammes leads third grade girls in a bonding activity. (WISH Photo)

AVON, Ind. (WISH) — Educators say bullying continues to be a problem in schools among children of all ages. Parenting experts say bullying can start as young as three-years-old and affects both girls and boys, but teachers and staff at Avon’s Pine Tree Elementary are focusing on girls at a specific age in hopes of making their social lives more positive.

“I was receiving notes of girls needing to speak with me about friendship problem maybe one or two per week and it was from the third grade girls,” Kelli Hammes, Pine Tree Elementary School counselor, said.

It was a startling trend for the first-year counselor, but she decided a proactive approach was needed to solve a communication and friendship problem.

During recess, once a week, Hammes brings all the school’s third grade girls together in the gymnasium.

“Have a group that would really build community and build friendships, build relationships, in a positive way and help them learn how to resolve those conflicts,” Hammes said.

She uses interactive games show similarities among students. For instance in one activity, each girl says something about herself and the others say “me too” if they have that in common.

Hammes said it goes beyond the bullying prevention already taught in third and fourth grade.

“You know leaving others out, that’s a form of bullying. And little things that you say or do really can effect others. So this kind of bridges from that lesson that I did already in the classroom and just helps them have more positive interactions with each other at recess, which is when a lot of them struggle with that,” Hammes said.

The program has been so well-received by students and parents, Hammes says it needs to expand.

“Boys need this too and what about this grade and the whole school needs it,” Hammes said she’s hearing from parents. “So eventually I could see this happening in all grade levels and with boys and girls.”

Hammes says that could happen as soon as early 2018. She hopes once the program wraps up with the third grade girls, they will continue use the skills learned and the activities to build friendships and resolve conflicts among themselves.