Schoolyard fights have been around as long as children have been going to school. But officials at two elementary schools in the Donegal School District in Lancaster, Pa., think they may have found the secret to teaching children how to get along: play.

Seiler and Grandview elementary schools combined their students on a recent Monday for “Games Day,” and children in grades 1 to 5 circulated through 10 stations throughout the day at Seiler Elementary School and learned to play games.

It was the second such day sponsored by the school district. The first event was held last year, and school officials say the results have been extraordinary.

“There were no major fights last year and only two incidents of fighting, in general. There were also 600 less injuries last year than the year before,” said Sharon Hagenberger, assistant principal at the schools. “It’s been really beneficial.”

The games program, developed by West Chester University associate professor Curt Hinson, teaches children to play games that include all students, stress cooperation between players, and break down activities into small, manageable groups.

School officials say they have seen a dramatic decrease in playground arguments in the last year. Playground injuries, such as cuts, scrapes and bruises, also have decreased from about 2,500 to 1,900—about 25 percent.

“It’s pretty fun,” Jeff Nagle, 10, said of the Games Day events. Nagle, a fifth-grader, said one of his teammates in the Grab-It game cheered with a rousing “Yes!” when their team was doing well. “It was like she wanted me to play,” Nagle said of the moment. “It made me feel included.”

Almost anyone can relate to not being picked for the school softball team or being the last chosen for basketball. “It makes you feel like people don’t like you,” said 11-year-old Carolyn Oberholtzer, a Seiler student.

But, Oberholtzer said, the focus of the Games Day program is to illustrate that everyone has something to contribute to a game. “It teaches us good sportsmanship, and we have to be able to cooperate to play properly,” she said.

Brenda Spayd, the Grandview Parent-Teacher Group president who also was helping with the day’s events, said the games foster goodwill. “The competition isn’t all about winning. They are having fun, too,” she said.

Mary Lynam, guidance counselor for both schools, and Sherrie Witmer, physical education teacher at Seiler, wrote the $500 grant application to bring the Games Day program to the schools.

“The kids weren’t playing safe. They were just being unsportsmanlike,” Witmer said. Why should children have the need to learn to play? “Most kids nowadays are either into group sports or TV and video games and computers,” Lynam said.

“Parents have very different schedules today, too,” Witmer said. “Therefore, games have actually gotten lost,” Lynam said. “We’re just bringing them back.”

Group launches teen dating violence awareness campaign

Health teacher Beverly Hoag added domestic violence to the curriculum at Toll Gate High School in Warwick, R.I., 10 years ago and soon knew she’d touched on a subject that resonated with students, but one they had trouble talking about.

Girls began approaching Hoag, herself a survivor of an abusive relationship, with stories of dating violence. Often, she said, they tried to conceal their involvement with the phrase: “I have a friend who …”

Recent studies show abusive relationships are still prevalent among teen-agers, but few victims or witnesses ever tell anyone about them.

The Rhode Island Coalition Against Domestic Violence is highlighting the importance of reporting such incidents with a new advertising campaign launched Oct. 1, the first day of National Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

“I have friends that have been in abusive relationships,” said Paige Tedeschi, 16, a junior at Warwick Veterans High School. “But it’s not something that we talk about much in school.”

During an assembly at Toll Gate, where the public awareness campaign was unveiled, Tedeschi read her poem, “Do You Do It Because You Love Me?” about a teen-age girl involved in an abusive relationship.

A study published in August in the Journal of the American Medical Association estimated that one in five high school girls has been physically or sexually abused by a dating partner.

Deborah DeBare, executive director of the Coalition Against Domestic Violence, said other studies have shown as many as one in three teen-agers have experienced physical violence in a dating relationship.

Yet just 3 percent have reported a violent incident to police, teachers, counselors, or parents, said DeBare.

“Dating violence is domestic violence,” she said. “Teen-agers aren’t always reaching out to us, so we must reach out to them.”

The group’s campaign includes television spots that will air on MTV, The WB Network, and other stations that cater to teens. There are billboards, bus advertisements, bumper stickers, and posters that are being hung in schools, doctors’ offices, and branch offices of Citizens Bank, a sponsor of the campaign.

“I never understood relationships when I was a teen,” said Zaida Hernandez Ford, a domestic violence survivor who told her story to about 100 students who attended the assembly. For nine years she was involved in an abusive relationship that began when she was 19.

“He beat me with a broomstick until the stick broke into pieces,” she said. “I missed out on the most important years of my life because of this man.”

Helping students to understand the difference between healthy and unhealthy relationships is the first step to ending dating violence, Hoag said.

In the decade since she began teaching it at Toll Gate, students have felt increasingly comfortable coming forward to talk about abusive relationships. “People come to me more directly now. We’ve torn down some of that stigma, but there’s a lot more to be done,” she said.

“Our greatest weapon against domestic violence is to refuse to be silent,” Hoag said. “There is so much help available in this community.”

Links:

Donegal School District, 366 S. Market Avenue, Mount Joy, PA 17552-2700; phone (717) 653-1447
web http://www.donegal.k12. pa.us.

Rhode Island Coalition Against Domestic Violence, 422 Post Road, Suite 202, Warwick, RI 02888; phone (800) 494-8100
web http://www.ricadv.org.