December 3, 2013

A ‘bunch’ of camaraderie in Belton

Scott Elementary teams students from different grades to foster mentoring and reduce bullying.

Bananas come in bunches, but at Scott Elementary School in Belton, children do, too.

But these aren’t cliques. Far from it.

In an effort to reduce bullying and foster healthy mentoring relationships, the school takes students from each grade level and puts them in a bunch. The groups meet monthly and build camaradie meant to last throughout their grade school days.

Kindergarten teacher Melissa Ruiz thinks it’s working. She noticed that fourth-graders who rode the same bus as her kindergartners often walked them to their classroom before school.

“The older kids have really taken over the mentor role, and the younger kids enjoy those relationships,” Ruiz said.

Scott Elementary started the bunch program in the spring of 2013 as another vehicle to carry out the Belton district’s character-building program, which places importance on demonstrating values, such as tolerance

All the school’s teachers and adults help to lead the student groups, which meet for 30 to 40 minutes for an activity that helps them work together as teams.

Character building is something that many districts have highlighted in recent years. Like others in the area, Belton chooses a value each month, such as integrity and responsibility, and encourages teachers and others to include it in lesson plans.

Counselor Suzanne Otta, who is working toward character education certification, helped establish the bunch program as a way to make the school feel more like family.

“We have two to four students for each grade level in a bunch,” Otta said. “They will keep the same bunch for as long as they stay at the school and they will stay with the same leader.”

In September, bunches met in the gym and formed circles to learn everyone’s name. They crafted a team name and then played “Simon Says.” In October, student's wrote or illustrated on pumpkins the positive acts they had done while no one was watching. It was a lesson on integrity.

“One of the huge positives is that the older students are taking it upon themselves to mentor other students when they see them in the hallway,” said the school’s principal, Roxanne Pearson.

Ruiz said bunches are valuable for the students because they get to know other people in the building they might not come to know otherwise.

Fourth-grader Ashley Warren would agree. She likes helping other children and looks out for a friend in kindergarten.

“You finally get to bond with other children,” Ashley said. “We stick with our friends, and if we have more friends, we expand our friendships and our bonding experiences.”

Pearson, the principal, saw how the concept empowered one student who was having difficulty at home. The girl made a connection with her bunch leader and now tutors younger students.

“It’s helped her get control,” Pearson said.

That continuity creates a connection throughout the grade levels, Otta said.

“I feel like it is diminishing the bullying and forming a cohesion,” she said.

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