Unique anti-bullying program brings kindness to the classroom

JENNIFER GUSTAVSON PHOTO |Beth Ann WIneberger with students in her first-grade class at Southold Elementary School.
JENNIFER GUSTAVSON PHOTO |Beth Ann Wineberger with students in her first-grade class at Southold Elementary School.

One New Year’s resolution in Beth Ann Wineberger’s first-grade class is to fill buckets every day, 20 buckets to be exact.

The small, plastic buckets hang from a bulletin board in her Southold Elementary School classroom. And they’re to be filled daily with notes marking the exchange of compliments, thank you’s and other displays of kindness.

“This one says, ‘Leni helped me put away my crayons,’” Ms. Wineberger said. “This one is from me: ‘Chloe helped others at snack time.’”

The classroom buckets are symbols that represent the balance of positive and negative feelings students experience and create in others. When a student’s bucket is full, it means both that he or she has performed acts of kindness, such as sharing, and is feeling the benefits of having done so.

In addition to seeing the students help one another build and maintain self-esteem, Ms. Wineberger said, the buckets create an atmosphere where the children are constantly encouraged to do nice things for others.

But what goes in can also come out. When people are nasty to one another, they are “dipping” into both that other student’s bucket — and into their own. The negative act depletes positive feelings on both sides. An empty bucket represents, and may very well lead to, low self-esteem.

According to the book “How full is your bucket? For Kids” by Tom Rath and Mary Reckmeyer, from which Ms. Wineberger got the idea, a student with low self-esteem can become irritable and inclined to be mean to others.

When she explains to her students why it’s bad to be “dipper,” she’s also teaching them how not to be bullies.

“The strange thing was that every drop he helped put into someone else’s bucket, he received a drop in his own,” she said of the main character from the children’s book. “It’s very sweet. The more you do, the better you’ll feel about yourself.”

After lunch last Thursday, Ms. Wineberger recapped with her class the importance of bucketfilling.

“What does it mean to be a bucket dipper?” she asked 6-year-old Leni. “Hurting someone,” Leni said, after pausing to think about it. Before the teacher could praise her, Luca, 6, used the opportunity to be a bucket-filler. “Good job, Leni,” he said.

In addition to the classroom buckets, Ms. Wineberger also recently read to them Pat Miller’s book “Squirrel’s New Year’s Resolution” because she wanted to use the seasonal tradition to reinforce her bucket program.

After each student wrote about how they planned to be a bucket-filler, they got their picture taken wearing Ms. Wineberger’s sparkly 2014 novelty glasses. The photos will be pasted above the students’ New Year’s resolutions.

“I’m going to keep finding ways to keep it going,” Ms. Wineberger said of the anti-bullying program.

Last school year, Ms. Wineberger introduced the bucket fi lling lesson plan in her kindergarten class. She described its fi rst run as a great experience, especially because she noticed that students became more comfortable with each other and displayed extra manners. Fellow teacher Lynn Shaffer has also adopted the program in her own class, she said.

Dennis Noncarrow, whose son was in Ms. Wineberger’s kindergarten class, said he believes her approach to education provides an inviting atmosphere for students to learn.

“She has an individual relationship with each student and gets to know them and their families,” he said. “Kids usually have anxiety starting school. My son didn’t have that and looks forward to school.”

Most of Ms. Wineberger’s nearly 20-year teaching career has involved kindergartners. This school year marked her introduction to teaching first-graders.

The transition has been interesting for Ms. Wineberger because she’s able to gauge how the bucket-filling program has affected her students, having now taught some of them two years in a row.

“They have risen to the occasion and they did a good job,” she said. “I feel good about myself. I’ve been bucket-filled, so to speak.”

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