It was a very positive and eye-opening day on the school yard at Harding Elementary in Sylmar. Hundreds of students with their teachers, school staff and parents led by a group of five local police officers played games, cheered, chanted and moved to the tunes of a DJ, with each activity delivering the same message, “Gangs, crime, drugs, bullying, just say No!”
At the helm was a very enthusiastic police officer, Michael Jason Scott, who started the school based program in 2016 to go directly to schools and hold student rallies to bridge schools with local police, and build confidence in students to “Say No” to situations that can cause them harm.
Officer Scott, who first worked at the Mission Division in Sylmar and later the Devonshire Division in Northridge, now works at LAPD headquarters in Los Angeles at the youth programs unit community engagement group. In three years he has taken the program to 44 schools and have reached 24,000 kids. The program also shines a positive light on police officers in disadvantaged communities where people can be fearful of police.
Harding Principal Laura Fuentes had requested the program to come to her school prior to the latest tragic bullying incident in Moreno Valley that made news headlines.
“It was really successful to have such a preventative measure on campus and it was also a great way to have community involvement,” said Aleen Andonian, assistant principal for elementary instruction at Harding.
“We had a large number of parents who were on board who attended and it was a great opportunity for the students to see and meet the police officers who work in the area, the students really enjoyed it.”
It was noted to parents that bullying can cut across all socio-economic, racial, ethnic and cultural lines and parents were told to be aware if they notice a change in their student’s behavior.
Sometimes children don’t always share with their family or teachers how deeply they are affected by being teased or bullied. Teasing becomes bullying when it’s repetitive or when there’s a conscious intent to hurt another child.
It can be verbal bullying by making threats, name-calling, psychological bullying excluding children, spreading rumors, or physical bullying hitting, pushing, taking a child’s possessions. Warning signs can include noticing a change in behavior that can include a drop in grades, crying, complaints of stomach aches and not wanting to go to school. Sometimes there are no signs, so it’s important that parents have good communication with their children.
Scott asked the students how many of them had been bullied and more than 300 hands went up. Eyes opened wide when he then asked the police officers, teachers, staff, and parents if they had been bullied and all of their hands went up. “I put my hand up in the air too,” he said.
“We encouraged the students to be respectful to each other and if someone is bullying you, to express themselves and also delivered a message to the person who is doing the bullying to talk to someone. We told them that the bully also needs to get help to find out why they are doing this. Bullies are sometimes going through something themselves,” Scott said.
The officer added “We emphasized that we are all different. We are different sizes, colors and have different likes and it’s all OK to be different. We also stressed the importance of seeking help if anyone is hurting them.