Written by Laureanna Crump, Second Year AmeriCorps member, proudly serving on the Irene W. and C.B. Pennington Foundation team at Kenilworth Science and Technology School.
Each month the administration at Kenilworth Science and Technology School expects individual grade levels to choose an area in which to improve on, either as a whole or just as a personal goal. After Thanksgiving break, we were instructed to focus on respect while taking into consideration the climate and culture of our classrooms. The initial conversation started during an afterschool grade level meeting. One of our assistant principals led a temperature check with the 7th grade teachers and interventionist to gauge how the staff was feeling and to revisit the definitions of climate and culture. We all agreed that climate is the feeling students get while being inside the classroom and the culture is the classroom norms, how the students treat each other, how teachers treat the students, and vice versa.
After several occurrences, the administration felt it was necessary to have a schoolwide goal to focus on respect. The staff brought the subject to the weekly student assemblies, only this time the girls and boys met separately. In doing so, the source of most students’ unruly behavior surfaced immediately: overly aggressive postures are rooted in defense, but can become the cause of violence. One of the female staff members opened by asking, “What is respect?” The girls didn’t answer as quickly as hoped, so she reworded it and asked, “What does it mean to respect yourself?” A 7th grader responded, “Don’t let anyone run over you.” This seems to be the common mentality of many of the students at Kenilworth. Consequentially, students end up disrespecting each other and talking back to adults in order to get the last word during any heated exchange. This mentality affects their physical reactions as well. Students don’t want to be viewed as weak, so they argue until they are angry enough to fight. Some students have grown tired of arguing so their first reaction is to swing. We have the usual same-sex fights but one problem I’ve noticed on campus is girls hitting boys, and some of the other staff has noticed it too. Some boys are raised to never put their hands on a girl unless absolutely necessary, and some girls take advantage of that. A teacher commented, “I have a son, and I have raised him to never put his hands on a woman. However, I have also told him that if a woman continues to put her hands on him after he’s consistently tried to diffuse the situation, then it is okay to defend himself… as a mother, I don’t want girls putting their hands on my son either.” We don’t support victim blaming, but a part of having respect for yourself is carrying yourself like a lady. Blatant abuse is one thing, but purposely antagonizing and beating on boys is another. They are human and they get tired like we do. The teachers continued educating and defining what respect is to the girls and how to protect yourself without resorting to violence.
Carrying yourself like a lady entails more than keeping your hands to yourself. The female staff members covered many essential topics such as respecting teachers, following directions the first time, watching your facial expressions, watching the type of language you use, taking care of hygiene, and grooming in private. The conversation went a little further into informing girls that sharing beauty products, drinks, and utensils could have potential health risks. These health risks include, but aren’t limited to, Mononucleosis (also called mono or the kissing disease), Herpes simplex virus type-1, and fungi.
Respect is important outside of school when students use social media. Our young girls found themselves faced with the realization that the things they post on social media stays out there. These students are young enough to turn their social media presence into a more positive light, but if they keep posting in a provocative manner, it could affect the way employers view them. “When are you going to realize that your current actions can affect your future?” another teacher asked. Our 8th graders didn’t initially realize that how they behaved in class could determine whether or not they get that letter of recommendation that is needed to get into their dream high school. The impact of disrespect doesn’t stop there. The behavior we are attempting to get them to avoid exhibiting, or at least learn when it’s not appropriate to exhibit, is transferrable into their future careers. Soft skills are the rudimentary attributes employers seek.
Before the assembly ended, our guidance counselor, Dr. Latrisha Dean, put things into perspective for them by saying, “I challenge you to have a moment of reflection because personally, if someone disrespects me, one, I’m not going to let them disrespect me and get away with it. Two, I’m not going to disrespect them back because it goes against what my mama taught me and my character.” She challenged them: “When you’re checking your appearance in the morning, make sure you’re adjusting your attitude too.” An 8th grader stunned the crowd when she cosigned, “Your attitude is contagious, so watch how you talk to people and the tone of voice you use.”
I followed up with our guidance counselor almost four weeks later to debrief and she stated, “The idea is to get students to realize that there are many aspects of respect. I think that most students believe that respect only means how you behave in the classroom.” In actuality, respect is about more than classroom behavior. It’s about how you treat others, and how you carry yourself. We as staff just want them to be able to grasp the entire idea of respect and that it encompasses their whole persona. It is imperative for students to remember that everyone has his or her own definition of respect so it was vital that we come together as a whole to have this conversation and be able to come to a consensus about what respect means to both the staff and students. These assemblies are just the beginning of the open dialogue the staff looks forward to having throughout the rest of the school year.