- Associated Press - Sunday, December 11, 2016

WEST FRANKFORT, Ill. (AP) - While this year’s presidential election results have many school systems across the country seeing a spike in harassment and bullying among students, West Frankfort’s junior and senior high schools seem to be weathering the storm just fine.

“I’m very proud of the kids,” Frankfort Community High School civics teacher Mike Karoski said of his students handling of the divisive rhetoric coming out of this most recent presidential campaign. He said they had a dialogue about issues and kept away from the name-calling and venom coming from television ads and social media.

He attributes part of their success to lessons many are learning at the junior high level.

Melanie Swann stands in front of a room full of seventh- and eighth-graders at West Frankfort Central Junior High School and asks hard questions. She talks about bullying, suicide and sexual assault. She asks kids to defend themselves on issues they bring from home about the presidential election.

The kids, in turn, respond. They talk with each other and find ways to have common ground.

This is what Swann’s elective, Discovering an Understanding of Self and Others is all about. Implemented five years ago, Swann said it is one of the most popular electives and is taken by about 80 percent of seventh- and eighth-graders. She said it has had a big effect on what she seen both in the classroom as well as in the hallway. She said it seems to give her students confidence to do what is right.

“Once we talk about a topic, I feel like they are empowered a little bit to maybe do some of the things we discussed,” Swann said.

Principal Charley Cass agrees. He said more and more, schools have had to step in with classes teaching these kinds of life lessons.

“The days of schools just teaching reading, writing and arithmetic are long gone,” Cass said. “We are teaching soft social skills that typically our parents taught us.”

He said this election has been a great teaching tool on this subject, but has not always presented students with the best examples of adult behavior.

“They are seeing what is normal junior high life playing out on television between grown-ups and it’s not a good example to set,” Cass said.

He pointed out that this age is really when they begin to develop their sense of fairness and justice. But, even when things have gotten nasty, Cass said he has seen his kids excel.

“I am hearing some horrible stories around the nation,” he said. “Here, not so much.”

This progress continues when the students reach high school.

Bethany Shaw, principal of Frankfort Community High School in West Frankfort, was thrilled with how her students handled the election.

“I feel like we were really able to focus on the issues,” she said.

She said staff really took on the challenge of channeling all the news coming from the election coverage into lively discussion. Karoski said he spent a month covering it in his class.

“We opened a dialogue virtually every day,” he said. “They wanted to actually focus on the issues.”

They did so well, Karoski and other teachers organized a 24-candidate debate after students had organized their own political parties and developed their own platforms. He said the kids did fantastic staying civil and on point. He credits a lot of these skills to the DUSO program at the junior high level.

“It’s helping them open a dialogue if anything else,” he said. “It’s increasing their thinking skills.”

DUSO is doing so much good, in fact, he said he wishes they would do even more instruction like it.


Source: The (Carbondale) Southern Illinoisan, https://bit.ly/2galXZw


Information from: Southern Illinoisan, https://www.southernillinoisan.com

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