The auditorium at Midtown Community School went dark on Oct. 18 as a single-beam spotlight fell onto a shape near the back of room, and followed it up the main aisle as nearly 600 children from grades pre-k to third grade rustled on either side, unable to stem their enthusiasm for the long-anticipated guest. They stood up, leaned toward to figure, waved their arms, and called out to the shark-like silhouette of Captain McFinn, who slowly made his way up the aisle.
Nearly all the students wore paper hats they had made for the occasion, some of blue paper, some tan or pink, all of them paying tribute to the characters of a unique new series of books and the associated anti-bullying program called S.H.A.R.K. Patrol.
Edwin Roman, a kindergartener, said he knew all the words to all the songs that were part of the program.
“I know how to sing them,” he said proudly, then went on to describe how he made the hat he wore.
“It’s of Bella,” he said, referring to one of the good characters in the books that come with the program.
Bayonne Public Schools teamed up with Captain McFinn and Friends Bully Prevention for the S.H.A.R.K. Patrol Multi-Media Program to launch the first ever national educational anti-bullying program geared for kids in grades pre-k to three.
This will be first in a series of national in-school and mall programs taking place nationwide.
“We already had an anti-bullying program at the school,” said Principal Christina Mercun. “But it is designed for older children and we wanted something for the younger students, and this program is a good fit for us.”
Based on books written by Phyllis Cafaro, the program is designed to teach younger children the concepts of being “a buddy, not a bully.” The program provides students and teacher with a variety of tools, including 30 lessons that can be used on two levels in order to promote positive behavior.
The program was created to inspire and motivate teachers, counselors, and students.
“We donated an entire kit to students and teachers in the school,” said Tim Hagan, a former gubernatorial candidate in Ohio where the program originated, now serving as a spokesperson for the program nationwide.
Coinciding with National Anti-Bullying Awareness Month, the S.H.A.R.K. Patrol was launched in Bayonne after testing the program out in handful of schools in Ohio.
The S.H.A.R.K. Patrol (Students Help Achieve Respect and Kindness) in-school educational curriculum supports the Bayonne Public School theme of the year, “Let There Be Peace in Bayonne,” noted Superintendent of Schools Dr. Patricia McGeehan.
“We wanted something for the younger students.” – Christina Mercun
The all-day program at Midtown included an assembly, followed by workshops where teachers led kids through anti-bullying activities including puppet shows, reading, sing-alongs and anti-bullying pledges.
The program, developed by accredited educators, provides teachers and counselors all the materials needed to educate and teach anti- bullying techniques to young children.
Each student, Hagan said, was given a packet containing a Captain McFinn book and music CD that they can take home where they can work with parents and siblings to enforce the theme.
“We could not have picked a better school to launch this program,” he said, noting that the diverse population of the school and the schools’ reputation for excellence made it a good choice for the nationwide kick-off.
McGeehan said Midtown, with its national Blue Ribbon status, was the perfect school to kick off the program.
“Our goals,” Mercun added, “are to assist parents and teachers on how to teach kids to be kind to each other and to reject bullying behavior, especially at younger ages.”
According to the National Association of Elementary School Principals, bullying has become a national epidemic, with an estimated 18 million children in the U.S. being bullied each year. Negative feelings from being bullied account for three million student absences each month.
Mark Steinman, who works for the school district, brought the program people together with school officials, said program developers worked with the district over the last six months.
“There are three themes and it is taught on two levels: pre-k and kindergarten; and first grade through third,” Steinman said. “There was an obvious need for some kind of bully-prevention program and we believe that as these kids get older they will become role models for younger children.
And if anybody had any doubt about how attractive the program is to the kids, all they had to do is listen to the raised voices of the children in the auditorium who already knew the words to the songs they sang. Even shy kindergartener Julia Wolleon said she knew all the words and had already learned a lot about how not to be a bully.
“Learning should be fun. It should be part of you. It should be something in your hearts,” Hagan told the room full of students.