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Chester County Press

Teaching little lessons to prevent bullying

04/14/2015 11:35AM ● By J. Chambless

Samantha Minnucci met with students from pre-K to eighth grade at Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary School on Tuesday.

Taking her place in front of the classroom, Trooper Samantha Minnucci asked the eager audience, “Does anybody know what bullying is?”
Little hands shot up as students answered: “Being mean to somebody!” “When you pick on somebody!” “When you steal!”
Minnucci beamed at each answer. “Well, bullying could be about stealing, if you are stealing from somebody to be mean to them,” she said. 
On Tuesday morning at Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary School in West Grove, students from pre-K to eighth grade got lessons in bullying that were tailored to their age groups. For Minnucci, who came up with the program herself as part of her ongoing outreach to the public, getting to meet children one-on-one and explain what police do is perhaps the best part of her job. 
“I love doing this. It's great,” she said before beginning her first session of the day. “It's important for children to be taught about this issue. It makes them realize that it's real and it's a crime. It's not just teasing or normal child behavior. It can escalate. If they're not taught now, then in the future, their behaviors might end up being criminal. So they need to learn now what's right and wrong. But these kids know what bullying is. They've experienced it already, at this age.”
For the youngest children, the issues discussed are more general. For older students, there's a video  presentation that grapples with the real-life tragedies that can result from bullying, including teen suicide. But at 8:30 on a rainy morning, the eager students talked to Minnucci about being good, about respecting others, about telling an adult if something is wrong.
“There are two types of bullying – direct and indirect,” Minnucci said. “I know those are big words, but direct bullying is punching, pushing someone, calling people names. Indirect bullying is talking behind someone's back, or going online and saying mean things about someone.”
One girl raised her hand. “I have a cell phone and an iPad,” she told Minnucci.
“Well, sometimes people, when they get older, go on their computer and type mean things about people, and then it gets posted on the internet. Imagine if you went online and saw something mean about you. Would that upset you? Words can be very, very hurtful, and they can be a form of bullying,” Minnucci said.
She got the pre-K and kindergarten students to stand up. “Has someone ever been mean to you?” she asked. “If so, stand up. Now, how many have been mean to others – it's OK, you're not in trouble. Nobody's perfect. OK, I see that's a lot of us. Now, have any of you spoken up and stopped it?” Minnucci asked. 
Nodding at the large number of students standing, she beamed. “That's wonderful! Give yourselves a round of applause!” she said.
The 45-minute discussion made some important points, phrased in a way that invited students to take part: What do you do if you see someone being bullied in school? Tell a teacher. What do you do if someone is bullied at home? Tell your parents. If you see bullying at a friend's house? Tell a parent, an adult or a babysitter about it.
“Oh! I have a babysitter whose name is Olivia,” one girl commented.
Minnucci smiled and gave a thumb's up.
“I got bullied once and I told my parents,” another girl offered. 
“Are things better now?' Minnucci asked.
The girl nodded.
“All right! High five!” Minnucci said, tapping the girl's outstretched hand.
While the questions and comments strayed off now and then – “I lost a tooth,” one boy happily reported – Minnucci offered congratulations and carefully steered the group back to the topic.
“If you get bigger and you push somebody, you can get in big trouble with police officers like myself,” she said. “Our job is to make sure that people are being nice to each other and following the rules that are important in life. I don't want to be mean to people and arrest them, but that's my job sometimes. 
“You're nice and little right now,” she told the children. “If you learn what to do now, when you're older, you can follow those rules and do the right thing.”
During a question-and-answer period, Minnucci took questions about being a police officer. 
“What's that yellow thing?” a boy asked. 
“This is called a taser,” Minnucci answered. “If somebody is not listening or trying to hurt me or you, I can use this tool on my belt to protect myself or someone else.”
“How fast are police cars?” one girl asked.
“They can go up to about 120 miles per hour,” Minnucci said. “Now, do police officers always go that fast? Of  course not. But if there's an emergency, we have to get there quickly, so we drive fast, with our lights and siren on.”
One student pointed out Minnucci's holstered gun.
“This is a gun,” she said as the children gasped. “Yes, it's real. It is not a toy,” she said firmly. “This is very dangerous, but police officers are trained on how to use it. Sometimes we have to use it, though. I would rather get hurt myself than see you guys get hurt. That's how much I love my job.”
One girl with her hand raised told Minnucci, “Every time I see a police officer, I say a prayer for them.”
Minnucci beamed. “That is so nice,” she told the girl. “Never be scared of a police officer. If you see us in the market or out in public, wave and say hi. We love that.”
Wrapping up the presentation before she moved on to a class of first and second graders, Minnucci said, “I have a huge, huge favor to ask all of you. When you talk to your friends, always be nice. If you see something that upsets you, get help – talk to an adult. If you are different, is that a bad thing? No, it's not. Everyone is perfect, just the way they are. When you look in the mirror, what do you say?” she asked.
A girl raised her hand and answered, “I'm awesome.”
“That's right,” Minnicci said with a smile.

To contact Staff Writer John Chambless, e-mail [email protected]