Wednesday, May 2, 2012

How Does Playworks Reduce Bullying?

A study from Mathematica Policy Research and Stanford University recently found that Playworks programs significantly reduce bullying behavior in schools.  It’s a pleasant surprise because Playworks doesn’t have a specific anti-bullying curriculum.  We don’t advertise ourselves as an anti-bully program, and we really don’t focus our program on addressing ‘bullies’.  So what’s going on?  Why does our program achieve those results?  Below is my attempt to figure that out based on my own personal experience with bullying and with Playworks.

I had a single fight in grade school.  A kid named Mike (not his real name) came at me after I tackled him a little too hard in a game of two hand touch football.  We pushed each other a couple of times and then we were on the ground, arms wrapped around each other, screaming curses.  The playground supervisor rushed over and pulled us apart.  It was over in less than a minute, and neither one of us got hurt.

I’ve tended to think about this story as an isolated incident, one that left me feeling angry and slightly humiliated to be sure, but not bullying per se.  Despite that, the incident, which I refer to in my mind as “the fight” still weighs heavily on me.  I like to think of myself as a very calm, patient person, but there are moments when the fa├žade breaks down and I experience rage.  It only happens when I’m alone.  I think about a problem in my life, some challenge I have to overcome.  

That sounds so melodramatic.  Really, they’re small things, the dishes that have to be unloaded from the dishwasher, the bills that need to be paid, the floor that needs vacuuming… All of the little things in my life that I have to take care of, but that are never done.  They’re tasks a person cannot truly accomplish, but they demand my attention and I get a flash of anger, a flash of that moment of grass and dirt and the smell of sweat on Mike’s jersey.  

Every day at recess I played two hand touch football, and every day Mike and Derrick were captains, and every day they picked the same kids in roughly the same order.  We believed this order was based on skill with the best wide receivers being picked first, the best running backs next, and then the kids who were pretty athletic followed by those that we viewed as bad players.  

Every single day we went through the picking of the teams like a ritual.  Every day we were put in our places.  I wasn’t ever picked last (I’m pretty tall and reasonably athletic.  I can catch a football.), but I wasn’t ever picked first either.  

In truth, the picking of teams wasn’t about skill level.  It was about power.  Mike and Derrick didn’t get to pick every day because they were the all-time quarterbacks.  That’s what they told us, but we all knew it was because they were the ‘popular kids’, and the popular kids make up the rules as they go.  

They picked their friends first, and so when I got picked in the middle, I knew what it meant.  Sure, I could play football with them because you need ten or twelve guys to play, but I wasn’t their friend.  Outside of football, we didn’t hang out.  They didn’t talk to me, and I didn’t talk to them.  It played out like that in the game too.  Mike would drop back into the shotgun, hike the ball himself and then throw it to one of his friends, even if they were double covered and I was wide open.  I got the ball sometimes, and I even scored my fair share of touchdowns, but it didn’t matter.  No one ever thought of me in terms of a wide receiver.  We were labeled by our social standing.

On the day of “the fight,” I was on Derrick’s team.  We were winning by one touchdown with only five minutes to go until the bell.  Mike dropped back, hiked the ball and we started counting down the 5 seconds we had to wait before we rushed him.  He faked a pass, ran to his left, faked another pass and then started running.  

The quarterback sneak was one of the most popular moves in recess football.  It allowed the quarterback/captain to show off his skills without having to share any of the glory with his fellow teammates.  Mike breezed by our first defender and started sprinting up the side of the field.  I was the closest to him, and I gave chase.  

Just before he reached the end zone, I dove and got him with both hands flat on his back.  We both went down and rolled in the grass and in an instant, he was up again stomping towards me with the awkward gait of an irate chimpanzee.  I scrambled to my feet and turned to face him.  He pushed me in the chest and then stepped forward to put his face in my face.  I stood my ground.  

“Why’d you push me?” he yelled.  

“I didn’t push you.  I tackled you.  You’re down.”

“It doesn’t count,” he said.  “You pushed me so it’s a touchdown.”

“No,” I said my voice rising, “I got you right before you crossed the line.  You’re down.”

“Pushing doesn’t count,” he said.  He started to turn away, but I was the one who was irate now.  I pushed him in the chest and he took a couple of steps back.  For a moment there was surprise painted all over his face, and then he rushed me and we were on the ground.

Looking back on it, I realize that the football game I participated in was a bullying institution.  It operated by setting up and then reinforcing social hierarchies that were then played out in the classroom.  There are a number of points at which “the fight” could have been avoided, but without an engaged adult on the playground, incidents like the one I was a part of are not just common, but inevitable.  I don’t mean to suggest that every school that doesn’t have Playworks at its recess is bad, but without adult guidance from a playground aid, a teacher, an administrator, or even a volunteer parent, kids can have a hard time sorting out their baggage in a healthy way.

Here are the places a Playworks program would have intervened:
  1. We would likely have been playing flag football instead of two hand touch.
  1. We would not have been using captains to pick teams so the social hierarchy would not have been reinforced.
  1. A Playworks coach would not be okay with one person being all-time anything.
  1. An argument over whether something was a touchdown or not would get solved with roshambo (rock paper scissors).
  1. We would all be learning core values like inclusion, healthy play, and respect in our class game times which the coach would help reinforce at recess.
  1. Most importantly, there would be an engaged adult on the playground who knows how every kid out there is feeling that day, and he or she would intervene before things got out of control.

Here’s the question: What is it we do that reduces bullying?  

Everything we do reduces bullying because we change the dynamics of recess.  We replace the routines of established social hierarchy with healthier routines.  The dailiness of our program means that our students are constantly being lifted up rather than beaten down.   Bullying is systematic, constant, over and over again, and I think that Playworks is effective at combating something like that because we are also daily.  We’re systematic.  We’re constant.  We’re over and over again.  Most programs that address bullying focus on kids labeled as bullies and how to get them to change their behavior, but none of those programs has a presence on the playground like we do.  It sounds simple and straightforward, but I really think it’s the answer.  

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Why I work at Playworks

I worry.  It’s a specialty of mine since my son was born last April.  Here is a short and by no means comprehensive list of things I worry about.         
                1. That he will get sick
                2. That he’ll fall and hurt himself
                3. That I’ll drop him
                4. That he will ingest something poisonous
                5. That someone will steal him
                6. That I am a really bad parent
                7. That I am causing some psychological damage that I can’t even imagine right now
                8. That our house will burn down and I won’t be able to get to him
                9. That wolves will find their way into our house and eat him
                10. That he will grow up and leave me

I guess these are the things all new parents worry about--physical and emotional safety.  We can’t help it.  Babies are so vulnerable, so easy to damage, so desirable for thieves, so toothsome to wild wolves.

The worries speak more of my fears and insecurities than of any real danger my son faces.  As parents, we’re scared of all the harm the world may inflict on our children, scared of the harm we will inevitably inflict, and yet there’s no way to guard against these risks.  

We can’t raise our kids in a bubble, or give them away to expert nannies in order to avoid psychological damage.  Our children must fall down and bruise themselves, must experience pain and loss, must try new things and take risks, and they must learn to live with us as their parents.  It’s a painful process, but necessary.  We try to keep the risks to a minimum, but at some point, we’re supposed to work ourselves out of a job.  Our kids are supposed to become adults and leave us.  

Even now, the little bit of growing up he’s done has made my son more independent, less reliant on me.  He’s taking small steps towards the door, and the pain of it is only a little less than the joy.

I work at Playworks because it’s something I can do to make the world into a less worrisome place.  I don’t fight disease, or catch baby thieves, or correct psychological damage, but I do have an impact.  

My job makes a difference for 3,400 kids in Salt Lake City.  I help our office stay up and running and provide support for our coaches who spend their time out on the playground making sure school is safe, healthy, and fun.  Because of them, kids get bullied less, they are kinder to each other, they see school as a positive place.  

Because of them and because of me, the world is better.  I work at Playworks for my son, because the world should be as good as I can make it for him, and because I want him to see that this is my job, that we care for each other.  That’s what we do as human beings.  I want him to understand that things can get better, that he can make a difference just like I do, that this is what it means to grow up.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Race Results from the Run for Recess!

I apologize for the weird formatting.  It looked fine in word.  Let me know if you have any suggestions to improve on the race for next year in the comments section.  Congratulations to all of our finishers.

Place                     Name                                    Time                     

1                              Levi Pace                             0:18:02                 

2                              Lauri  Shea                          0:18:45                 

3                              Keven Yeh                          0:19:23                 

4                              Brianna McKall                  0:19:44                 

5                              Kenn Despain                    0:20:26                 

6                              Rayl Smith                           0:20:48                 

7                              Clay Rockwood                 0:20:58                 

8                              Rich Otterstrom                  0:21:11                 

9                              Ryan Smith                         0:21:31                 

10                           Kevin  Grimes                    0:21:52                 

11                           Aria Rockwood                  0:22:17                 

12                           Jen  Gustavson                   0:22:29                 

13                           Scott  Sunderman                0:22:43                 

14                           Cohen Summers                  0:23:35                 

15                           Corey King                          0:24:00                 

16                           Laura  Tatham                    0:24:02                 

17                           Tom Luthy                           0:24:03                 

18                           Kirk  Probasco                    0:24:05                 

19                           Jennifer Stuhan                    0:24:06                 

20                           Laura  Wight                       0:24:09                 

21                           Phillip Carron                     0:24:17                 

22                           Taylor Negus                      0:24:38                 
23                           Molly Person                     0:24:48        
24                           Daphne Dee                       0:24:55 

25                           Jamie Rankin                      0:25:17                 

26                           Celeste Simmons             0:25:48                 

27                           Carlos Hernandez            0:25:53                 

28                           Marile Dauydara               0:26:05                 

29                           Emily Spackman                0:26:15                 

30                           Eric Jansen                          0:26:21                 

31                           Nick Johnson                     0:26:32                 

32                           Laura  Strate-Madsen    0:26:47                 

33                           Stephen Williams             0:26:49                 

34                           Tammy Turner                  0:26:52                 

35                           Rhonda Black                     0:26:54                 

36                           Nick Estrada                       0:27:35                 

37                           Colin Olsen                         0:27:43                 

38                           Victoria Alimov                  0:27:46                 

39                           Ronald  Peterson             0:27:57                 

40                           LaQuitta Probasco           0:28:13                 

41                           Jason Burt                           0:28:22                 

42                           Jeanette Saffir                  0:28:36                 

43                           Lauralee Lavender           0:28:38                 

44                           Christina Hales                  0:28:43                 

45                           Annika Jones                     0:28:46                 

46                           Clayton Rather                  0:28:49                 

47                           Jennifer Gygi                     0:28:51                 

48                           Brayden Lund                    0:29:04        
49                           Emily Milam                        0:29:06 

50                           Kimberly Allfrey                 0:29:07                 

51                           David Martinez                     0:29:25                 

52                           Matthew Adamson               0:29:31                 

53                           Jennifer Pringle                    0:29:35                 

54                           Katelyn Hatch                    0:29:41                 

55                           Roseann Gibson                  0:29:48                 

56                           Hyo Bae                               0:29:49                 

57                           Bonnie McBroon                  0:29:52                 

58                           Becky Milam                      0:29:59                 

59                           Heather Brockbank              0:30:02                 

60                           Travis Carlton                     0:30:03                 

61                           Kim  Monti                          0:30:06                 

62                           Jenny Stout                           0:30:14                 

63                           Kathy Stout                         0:30:16                 

64                           Kathleen Ogrin                     0:30:41                 

65                           Kristy King                           0:30:52                 

66                           Helen Carlton                       0:30:56                 

67                           Camille Grimshaw               0:31:00                 

68                           Cindy Howard                    0:31:03                 

69                           sarah Huber                       0:31:16                 

70                           Gwen Nguyen                   0:31:24                 

71                           Wendy Penrod                 0:31:28                 

72                           Marianella Ojeola            0:31:35                 

73                           Heidi Dillier                     0:31:41                 

74                           Paul Simmons                    0:31:42                 

75                           Emily  Jensen                     0:31:46                 

76                           Jason Payne                       0:31:48                 

77                           Shannon Blood                 0:31:51                 

78                           Shelly Christensen           0:31:52                 

79                           Julie Bangerter                  0:32:07                 

80                           Lyndee Crawford             0:32:10                 

81                           Amity Waldecker             0:32:12                 

82                           Melanie Davis                    0:32:13                 

83                           Naava Rockwood             0:32:18                 

84                           David Tangren                   0:32:24                 

85                           Doug Tangren                    0:32:27                 

86                           Natalie Stevenson           0:32:34                 

87                           Abby Talbot                        0:32:37                 

88                           Joseph Allen                      0:32:46                 

89                           John LaVictove                  0:32:50                 

90                           Hannah McFall                  0:32:55                 

91                           Loralie Rafiti                       0:32:58                 

92                           Stephen Schutz                    0:33:09                 

93                           Jeffery  Jensen                 0:33:24                 

94                           Staci Doi                            0:33:27                 

95                           Terri Sawyer                       0:33:30                 

96                           Heather Jorgensen         0:33:38                 

97                           Raelyn Hazen                     0:34:00                 

98                           Michael Fortin                   0:34:03                 
99                           Danielle Hall                       0:34:33 

100                         Melissa Miller                    0:34:55                 

101                         Robin  Wheelright            0:34:57                 

102                         Colleen Densley                 0:35:00                 

103                         Celia Pawlowich                0:35:03                 

104                         Shawn Clay                         0:35:23                 

105                         Ronald Clay                         0:35:28                 

106                         Charla Buchanan              0:35:30                 

107                         Maria  Greene                   0:35:32                 

108                         Jimmy Greene                  0:35:35                 

109                         Cindy Vanklaveren          0:35:37                 

110                         Pam Weaver                      0:35:39                 

111                         Armin Nazarihia                 0:36:02                 

112                         Bethany Harry                   0:36:13                 

113                         Brian  Howard                    0:36:16                 

114                         Brandy Winward              0:36:19                 

115                         Eric  Miller                           0:36:31                 

116                         David Buchanan                0:36:35                 

117                         Shana Aposhian                0:36:50                 

118                         Natanya Fisher                  0:37:03                 

119                         Tammy Christensen        0:37:55                 

120                         Olivia Blood                        0:37:58                 

121                         Megan Nequs                   0:38:01                 

122                         Cyndi Tangren                   0:38:03                 

123                         Chris  Stayer                       0:38:21                 

124                         Angelee Luther                 0:39:02                 

125                         Emily Bushman                 0:39:03                 

126                         Rose McCain                      0:39:04                 

127                         Susan Fortin                       0:39:06                 

128                         Hesper Bath                       0:39:20                 

129                         Robert Sawyer                  0:39:51                 

130                         Candace Estrada               0:39:57                 

131                         Emily Thunberg                 0:40:37                 

132                         Rebekah-anne Gebler   0:40:38                 

133                         Gavin Smith-Knott           0:41:00                 

134                         Sandra Hundley                0:42:20                 

135                         Shannon Burnham          0:42:43                 

136                         Ernie Broderick                 0:43:40                 

137                         Thekla Houghes                 0:43:44                 

138                         Cydne Houghes                 0:44:01                 

139                         Troy Carlton                       0:44:16                 

140                         Anna MaricPezely            0:44:42                 

141                         Jon Pezly                             0:44:44                 

142                         Shannon Fallis                   0:45:28                 

143                         katie Craigo                        0:45:53                 

144                         Whitney Ward                   0:45:55                 

145                         Ariane Mardis                    0:46:38                 

146                         Mandi Oler                         0:47:08                 

147                         Heather Perez                   0:47:38                 

148                         katie Hardman                  0:47:40                 

149                         Judith Adams                     0:47:42                 

150                         Gale Antell                          0:47:43                 

151                         Beth  Mota                         0:47:59                 

152                         Inez Mota                           0:48:00                 

153                         Kathleen  Burke                  0:48:11                 

154                         Tim  Cromwell                   0:48:19                 

155                         Carla Kimmel                      0:48:48                 

156                         Kathy Porter                      0:49:47                 

157                         Danielle Downs                 0:49:57                 

158                         Shelley Downs                  0:50:01                 

159                         Courtney Miles                 0:50:04                 

160                         Jennifer Strieker              0:50:27                 

161                         Lora Poulsen                      0:50:57                 

162                         Holly Stevens                     0:51:02                 

163                         Yvonne Stayer                   0:52:58                 

164                         Cindy Holloway                 0:53:01                 

165                         Judwh Oki                           0:54:21                 

166                         Marianne Conover          0:54:56                 

167                         Jeanette Boyd                   0:55:03                 

168                         Holly Schack                       0:56:08                 

169                         Kira Kirner                           0:56:11                 

170                         Katherine Garduno         0:56:50                 

171                         Sierra Garduno Morgan       0:56:54                 

172                         Ryan Kunzler                      0:56:59                 

173                         Kelly Lund                           0:57:03                 

174                         Karin Holt                            0:57:05                 

175                         Amy Casper                        0:57:09                 

176                         Amy Boynton                    0:57:12                 

177                         Lee Stevens                       0:57:16                 

178                         Alaina Wilcock                   0:57:20                 

179                         Bethany Gates                  0:57:24                 

180                         Berta Alcazar                      0:57:37                 

181                         Jenna Woods                     0:57:39                 

182                         Pam Blackwell                   0:57:41                 

183                         Volker Teller                      0:57:42                 

184                         Kristin Teller                       0:58:43                 

185                         Sharon  Edwards              1:03:24                 

186                         Kirk  Conover                     1:04:50                 

187                         Becky Bissegger               1:07:12                 
188                         Corrine  Soriano                1:07:15