The following editorial appeared Thursday in the Flagstaff Daily Sun:
In a time of school tragedy nearly 3,000 miles away, we've been struck in Flagstaff by how proactive our schools have been in addressing student behaviors that can lead to problems later on.
Flagstaff Unified School District and the charters have long had the P.E.A.C.E project - Prevention Education and Creative Expression. It's a theater group made up of high schoolers aimed at preventing relationship violence and breaking down barriers about racial, income and gender differences.
Even grade-schoolers are jumping on the anti-bullying bandwagon - even if they don't know it. Killip Elementary School has started a "Kindness Revolution" that gives students tips on how they can make a positive contribution every day - a smile, a word of encouragement, a polite "thank you." They've even learned a word - "empathy" - that most students a generation ago would not have encountered until about seventh grade.
But at Killip, it's hard for bullies to get much traction when an entire school has signed a contract that binds them to treating each other with respect and compassion so that they feel "happy, safe and loved."
Almost as important, teachers and staff got parents involved at an "Empathy Night" earlier this month. Based on the assumption that kids model in school the behavior they see at home, the sessions addressed head-on how to resolve conflict at home peacefully and what to do if your child complains of being bullied.
By the time they get to middle school, Flagstaff students are already looking to make not only their school a better place but their community, too. That's why we were pleased to see the student councils of both middle schools rev up school spirit by challenging each other to a winter clothing drive for the needy. Given that about 40 percent of the students at Flagstaff Unified School District schools come from families considered impoverished (earnings of up to twice the federal poverty income limit), we'd expect some of those warm coats to turn back up in the hallways, which will present the next empathy challenge for teachers and students alike.
Schools, of course, cannot entirely replace the life lessons that young people might be missing from parents, siblings, churches and other adult mentors. But as the place where a young person spends about half his waking hours through the age of 18, a school and its culture can't help but be a major influence in much more than formal academic learning. We applaud Killip and its entire school community for taking a positive and creative approach to a problem - bullying - that has been identified as a major contributor to the behavioral problems of young males later in life. A little kindness indeed can go a long way.