Set test scores aside for a minute, because elementary schools frequently find themselves having to teach something that's not on an exam: appropriate social behavior.
Bullying has long been a significant issue of middle and high schools, but one in five students at the elementary level have also reported being bullied, according to a 2002 American Medical Association's Educational Forum. And, nearly three-quarters of kids aged eight to 11 reported in a 2001 national survey by Nickelodeon/Talking With Kids that they had witnessed some kind of teasing or bullying at their school. More than half of kids in this age group agreed that teasing and bullying were a "big problem."
Madison's public elementary schools report that "big problem" as being a top concern - one often overlooked with the younger age groups. The Wisconsin Knowledge Concepts Examination tests skills like social studies and math, not students' knowledge of how interact with others. But anti-bullying measures are important enough to be part of the Madison Metropolitan School District's 2009 strategic plan.
Many of these lessons focus on preventing bullying among students. From bringing in outside aid to emphasizing the development of a strong, internal community, most schools are working hard to tackle the issues at all levels.
"It happens every single day"
At the elementary level, bullying includes behaviors ranging from telling secrets to throwing punches, and eliminating the problem unrealistic, but to counter bullying, schools use a variety of methods, from calling in police officers to enlisting the students themselves.
Bullying is common in elementary school. It happens on the playground, in the hallway, and when the teacher turns around.
"Kids don't like to identify themselves as bullies," said Christopher W. Gingher, a fourth and fifth grade teacher at Schenk Elementary. "They think bullying is beating someone else or taking some money from them, they didn't think bullying is just calling somebody a name, or spreading a rumor."
But it is, said Officer Emily Samson of the Madison Police Department. Samson is one of four police officers who are assigned full-time to teaching Classes on Personal Safety, or C.O.P.S, in Madison elementary schools.
To correct students' misconceptions, officers spend nearly an entire class talking about what bullying is: verbal bullying, exclusionary or threatening body language, and the more recognizable physical violence.
After the lesson, said Samson, "almost 100 percent of my kids raise their hand and say yes, bullying happens at my school and it happens every single day."
According to Jenny M. Markwiese, Schenk's social worker, the problem can rest not just with bullies, but with bystanders.
"If they are standing around and laughing when the bullying happens, they are also part of the problem," said Markwiese.
"Four-square is the main reason of bullying"
Less structure, less supervision, and competitive games like four-square and tetherball mean that "the most likely place for [bullying] to happen is on the playground," said Howard Fried, Crestwood's principal.
Antonio Garcia, a fifth grade student at Crestwood, said that in fourth grade one of his friends was "beat up" in a fight with another student. It started with an argument over four-square.
"Four-square, a lot of people, they're, like, hard on each other," said Grace Quandt, also a Crestwood fifth-grader.
Yep, agreed a Crestwood Elementary School fifth-grader whose parents didn't want his name to be used. "Four-square is the main reason of bullying."
John Everett, PTA co-president at Schenk Elementary School, said his son has also dealt with playground bullying issues. Last year, when his son was six, his son told him about a second-grade student who was bullying on the playground.
The older student would point to other players and tell them they were fired and not allowed to play the game anymore. Every few days, Everett's son told him a new story about the second-grader firing someone. The bullying behavior by the second-grader led to escalated problems. Everett's son tried to protect himself by lashing out against other students, but his reactions ended up getting him in trouble for fighting instead.
Students sometimes find it hard to know what to do in cases of real-life bullying, said Andy Waity, a fourth- and fifth-grade teacher at Crestwood.
"Any time they get in a playground situation or something, beyond just a classroom environment, they might know what to do, but it's a little harder when you're in the middle of a playground issue," said Waity.
"Be kind to one another"
Schools use a variety of methods to try to get through to their students. Using a combination that includes a program called Above the Line, teacher intervention, and C.O.P.S., educators try to build a framework that does not support bullying behavior.
Crestwood limits the problem by having a strong classroom structure where teachers are completely in charge, according to Rob Lucas, the psychologist at Crestwood. Relatively minor issues are "handled right at the teacher level," said Lucas.
Schenk also counts on students to report what the teachers can't observe directly.
"We need the student's help. We need their voice," said Markwiese. "We try to let them know when they observe something happening, they should come to the teachers, social worker, psychologist and share something they've seen."
Fried said he believes repeating the message is important, and he incorporates an anti-bullying message into each morning announcement at Crestwood.
"I end the message and start the day by saying, let's all work hard and be kind to one another," said Fried.
"Usually you can find some common ground"
It was 8:40 a.m. on a recent Friday, and the students at Schenk Elementary School were listening to Principal Emmett B. Durtschi's morning announcements., A boy in Gingher's class was one of the week's Shining Sharks, and Classroom 135 filled with cheers. The recognized boy sat quietly with a smile as some classmates patted his back in congratulations, Gingher said.
The Shining Shark program at Schenk is part of the "Above the Line" Behaviors program implemented in MMSD elementary schools, a school-wide behavior plan aimed at teaching children the differences between appropriate and inappropriate behaviors.
Shining Shark winners are selected by their teachers to reward Above the Line behavior, and have a chance to win books, T-shirts, and a chance to have their photo featured in a hallway case.
Administrators try to handle "Below the Line" behaviors with fix-it plans. Both parties are allowed to air their grievances uninterrupted, and once that's done, said Barbara Handa, a fourth- and fifth-grade teacher at Crestwood, "usually you can find some common ground, usually you can get a fix-it plan going, and that's probably for 90 percent of the times."
When Handa does a fix-it plan, she leads the students through a process where they have to state what they did, how it affected others, and how they're going to fix it. One Crestwood fifth-grader said that after he was bullied, the bully had to write him a note apologizing for it.
And sometimes there must be some kind of punishment: On average, Madison Metropolitan School District elementary schools suspended 3.52 percent of their student body during the 2007-2008 school year, or an average of 12 students per school. Not all suspensions were for bullying, but then again not all bullying results in suspension.
"A different voice with the same message"
For external reinforcements, there's the C.O.P.S. program.
C.O.P.S. is taught in 30 of MMSD's 32 elementary schools, as well as five private schools. The program was created by the Madison Police Department as a replacement for the Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E.) program.
"It's a nice program because it's a different voice having the same message," said Handa. "It's a different perspective."
Samson has been assigned to C.O.P.S. for almost four years. Although the program replaced D.A.R.E., Samson emphasized that C.O.P.S. does much more than drug and alcohol education, including units on gang resistance, self-esteem, Internet safety, and bullying.
"It's one of, if not the main, truly proactive things that the Madison Police Department does," she said.
C.O.P.S. officers use a variety of methods to convey their anti-bullying message, including role-playing, homework, videos, puppets, music, and books. They also use personal stories to illustrate the lasting effects bullying can have on others.
Samson said that she or the classroom teacher will describe a bullying situation that happened to them when they were in elementary school.
"When they look at their teacher who's in their 30s or 40s... and she can describe specifically something that affected her when she was their age," said Samson, "I see them really start to think about the fact that their actions can have lifelong consequences."
C.O.P.S. is intended to create a way for officers to build a positive relationship with students.
"Hopefully," said Samson, "we can help them think about making good choices in the future so that they don't have to have any reactive contact with our department."
Students respond positively to the messages in C.O.P.S., teachers said.
"I can see them making connections," said Waity. "I can see them thinking about what the police officers have said to them."
"Sometimes they do think twice again and they can control themselves," said Gingher. "The program gives them self-awareness, which has a positive effect on students."
"Tend to it on an ongoing basis"
But despite the use of anti-bullying education, dealing with bullying problems is still a hard task for teachers.
Gingher said that time was major factor in his attempts to handle bullying. One recent day, two students lined up outside before school got into an argument over name-calling.
In the ten minutes before school started, Gingher had to allow the kids to get out their negative feelings, resolve the problem, and get them to gym class on time.
"We try to make sure that the kids are feeling safe throughout the day. But sometimes I didn't spend as much time on solving the problems as I would like to," said Gingher.
No matter how strong the community or the message, anti-bullying efforts will have to continue, according to Fried.
"It's not the sort of thing that you can ever declare victory," Fried said. "We have to tend to it on an ongoing basis."