Last year, Northeast principal Dr. Joe Putrino started a really cool program at our school called RESPECT. I love how it encourages all the students—including my kids—to choose kind words and actions and to speak up when someone else doesn’t. Children sing songs about respect, complete art projects, attend school assemblies and talk about it in their classrooms. This is such a kind and effective anti-bullying initiative—and Dr. Putrino offers it to the entire community, not just Northeast.
Alongside the principal, graduate students from Montclair State’s psychology department go into the school on Tuesdays and Thursdays to ‘hang out’ during lunch and recess. Kevin DeJong is one of those folks and this year’s RESPECT team leader. “If I see a kid sitting on the field alone, I go up to him,” DeJong says. Usually, he manages to connect with the kid and make him feel better. DeJong adds that Northeast students are really aware of the program during its second year, and they’ve been more comfortable telling adults about problems that arise.
Wednesday was a big RESPECT day at Northeast.
The students attended an assembly where Dale Berra (former MLB player and Yogi’s son) spoke and big kids from Montclair High School performed an anti-bullying hip hop routing. Then Dr. Putrino shared his own bullying story. He admitted to the student body that he picked on a kid in elementary school by throwing his hat in the street. He felt badly about his actions and was surprised when the kid was nice to him in high school. The two boys talked about it; Dr. Putrino apologized; and they found out they had a lot in common. “We became friends,” Putrino said.
He always encourages the students to think before they speak and to make good choices. They also learn how to say, “I’m sorry,” when they slip up.
Thursday evening, Northeast opened its doors to the community with the annual RESPECT Showcase, see above. My kids ate healthy snacks, played games that reinforced the message and won prizes. They also watched a video of themselves made by Dr. Putrino himself.
Dr. Putrino will host upcoming RESPECT trainings for parents in the community to get involved. Stay tuned for the dates. “We talk about what respect looks and sounds like,” Putrino said. “And we reinforce the messages that the kids are learning at school.”
It’s made a big and positive difference in the overall atmosphere of the school. And the messages my kids learn at school work equally well when they tussle with each other at home.