- Last Updated on 02 August 2012
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Amanda Cook, the founder and director of The Respect Program, practices an anti-bullying exercise at the start of the CAMP graduation event at the Exchange Club Family Center. Cook says her goal was "to create safe places for children to learn and play."
Poetry and finger painting are being used to tackle the growing problem of bullying among local youth.
The Respect Program, one of the newest programs at The Exchange Club Family Center in Midtown, uses art to reduce bullying among area youth.
Director Amanda Cook, who started the program in October 2011, is not only an academic expert on bullying: She has also experienced it.
"I experienced a lot of bullying in middle school, a lot of teasing," Cook said. "As I grew older and thought about those experiences, it made me want to create safe places for children to learn and play."
For about 10 years, Cook has conducted research for the nonprofit sector on bullying among youth. She said the problem is growing with younger children, even in the preschool and kindergarten stages.
"It's a little bit of pushing, a little bit of the 'you can't be my friend' type of thing," Cook said.
The program is designed for ages 2 to 14. In her classes for younger children, Cook uses finger painting and hand puppets to help children build self-confidence and role play about how to handle confrontation with assertion, not aggression.
Older children read prose and poetry, often works of prominent leaders from the civil rights movement, such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
She said this literature allows children to understand that even in adversity, one can be courageous against a bully.
"One of the things we talk about in the program is that we have to be accountable for how we act," Cook said. "If you lash out, someone is probably going to lash back at you."
At The Exchange Club Family Center, Cook sometimes works with children from abusive homes, an environment that can promote bullying in children, she said. But bullying doesn't affect only those from violent environments, Cook said.
"No one comes into this world knowing how to have a healthy friendship," she said. "That's something you learn as you grow."
Sandra Brown Turner, director of the Barbara K. Lipman School and Research Center, an early childhood demonstration school for students in the College of Education, Health and Human Sciences at the University of Memphis, said she noticed a positive change in students' behavior after Cook conducted workshops in March and April.
She said it's critical to combat bullying at an early age to prevent permanent consequences.
"Sometimes, it (bullying) causes lifetime scars, and you never get over that," Turner said. "Words stay with you. Every single person on this planet has a scar."
Turner recalled childhood experiences when she was teased for wearing glasses. "They called me four-eyes," she said. "It took me forever to realize that I should be grateful for glasses."
Turner said the program has prepared students to create healthier relationships and "understand who they are in context with other people."
Cook believes increased attention to bullying can promote a positive change.
"People are becoming a lot more aware of this, and I truly believe that is a blessing to the cause and that it will help, hopefully, for us to change the culture in this country."
Photo by Nikki Boertman, The Commercial Appeal
Source Website: http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/google/bully/~3/r1Va6_aV1ms/url