Darwin schools roll out bold plan to end playground violence and bullying
Obama Lazorous (L) and Kandise Ebborn (R) use their “calm kits” to refocus. (ABC News: Alexia Attwood)
A new method to calm schoolkids and stop the threat of violence in Territory playgrounds is being rolled out across four schools in Darwin to combat challenging student behaviour.
- A Victorian education model aimed at helping vulnerable children reengage with school is being rolled out in the NT
- Principals and teachers are backing the program and say they have already seen changes in the classroom
- Methods such as hand signals are being used to help students express their emotions
The schools are the first in the NT to implement the new education curriculum, which uses strategies to help students understand their own behavioural patterns, take stock of how focused they’re feeling and gives them tools to concentrate better.
One of the schools implementing the program, Sanderson Middle School, went into lockdown twice in November, and neither incident has been explained.
The Education Union says schools in the Territory go into lockdown more than most people realise.
The NT Government also announced it was introducing a school-based policing program in 10 Top End schools — including at Sanderson — to work “heavily towards absenteeism, [and] minimising suspension rates”, according to NT Police.
Students already notice changes
Some students say they have already noticed changes since the model was introduced to their classrooms.
Developed by Victorian organisation Berry Street, which provides foster care, out-of-home care, counselling, family violence services and other support for those suffering from abuse and neglect, the education model arose from the organisation’s history of caring for vulnerable children and families, using trauma-informed strategies to help young people re-engage in school.
Mary Claire Patel, 13, from Sanderson Middle School, said she held real hopes it could turn her school around.
“It could make it more fun to learn, to calm people down, no physical violence and stop the bullying,” Mary Claire said.
Fellow Sanderson student Latina Cagey, 13, said: “instead of acting out in a violent or angry way I think these activities will help before you do something you regret, like hitting someone.”
Latina Cagey, 13, uses her “ready to learn” scale to take stock of how focused she is feeling. (ABC News: Alexia Attwood)
The program has been a “game changer” for Sanderson Middle School, said principal Liz Veel.
“Our teachers are on board, they’re passionate, they want it to work, they can see its strength and they can see the results in their classroom already after a couple of months,” she said.
There had already been signs of classroom behaviour changing “drastically”, Mary Claire said.
“There has been fights, like physically, and now that’s de-escalated and people are starting to calm themselves, go outside, get a drink,” she said.
Teachers busy learning new program
The principals at Malak, Manunda Terrace, Karama and Sanderson schools received a Northern Territory Government grant to research innovative classroom practices.
They travelled to Victoria to visit schools that were already using the Berry Street model successfully.
Now 150 staff across the four campuses are working through the teacher’s training modules, and said they too were already seeing positive results in their classrooms.
Students take part in a new program to try to halt violence and bullying. (ABC News: Alexia Attwood)
“Rather than directing students to control themselves or using punishment as strategies, it’s actually about handing the self-regulation back to the students, so they can modulate their behaviour to get ready to learn themselves,” Ms Veel said.
The strategies and activities used to engage students have varied depending on year levels.
Primary-aged students have been learning to recognise when to take a break from class and turn to their “calm kits”, which are a collection of objects, including slime and matching games, to refocus themselves on their learning.
“It’s mostly if I’ve gotten into a fight or someone’s teasing me,” said student Obama Lazorous, 9.
Hand signals to show emotions
Primary-aged students are also being encouraged to use hand signals to demonstrate their emotions, such as using a hand gesture of a lid flipping when they’re feeling angry.
All students have individual charts pinned to their classroom walls in order to pinpoint how “ready to learn” they are at any given moment.
The reason the approach had resonated across the board was because “we’re teaching the children about their own brains”, said Tim Morgan, principal of Karama Primary.
There is hope that if the program continues to yield positive emotional and academic results it will be rolled out in other schools across the Territory.