Denver Newsroom, Jul 22, 2021 / 03:01 am (CNA).
Following the Columbine High School massacre in April 1999, Catholic educator and counselor Frank DiLallo knew he had to do something. With a background in school counseling, DiLallo recorded an audio CD titled The Peace Project, a collection of introspective meditations on relaxation and self-regulation for students.
“I imagined what it would have been like to have something like that happen at my school,” DiLallo said. “I was very sad and outraged for a long time. I thought, ‘Somebody needs to do something about this,’ and the finger kept pointing back at me.”
The Peace Project was released in July 2001, two months before 9/11, which further fueled DiLallo’s interest in providing resources for de-escalation and mistreatment resolution for schools. He began field testing a Christ-centered anti-bullying program that he authored at schools in Toledo, Ohio, where he was working as a schools consultant at the time.
“The secular curriculums I looked at and tried to retrofit initially were all about signs and symptoms, and ‘What does bullying look like?’, but none of the application,” DiLallo said. “When I started to write this, my focus and intention was applicability and how I could make this relatable to kids so they could understand the compassion of Christ.”
In 2011, DiLallo enlisted the help of friend and co-author Thom Powers to weave scripture throughout the text. Together, they published the first edition of Bullying Redirect, a Christ-centered anti-bullying curriculum, in 2011.
“I’ve found that both in public schools and in Catholic and Christian schools, the hunger is unbelievable,” Powers said. “Young people want to belong, and they want a sense of peace and stability. And they don’t know how to get it.”
Powers, who studied in seminary for seven years, helped DiLallo write role plays using stories from the Bible to teach social skills. The scripture passages are written in a way that is easy to understand for students in 4th through 8th grade, the curriculum’s target audience.
“We have them take the scripture and first read it and then we go back and go very detailed about it, asking the question, ‘How does this apply in the classroom?’” Powers said. “More often than not what comes out is that there is a student who is eating lunch by themselves. Christ was inclusive. Can you imagine the impact if the students who are in the ‘in crowd’, ask if they can sit with someone who is alone?”
Lisa Bartholomew, a 27-year Catholic educator in the Diocese of Toledo, was one of the early adopters of Bullying Redirect. She started using the curriculum in her classroom before it was published, and went “full throttle,” she said, afterward.
“So much of what is out there as far as discipline or dealing with issues is negative or not helping kids learn how to support each other and how to learn from their mistakes in a positive way that’s not punitive,” said Bartholomew, who currently teaches 8th grade at Regina Coeli Catholic School in Toledo, Ohio. “Bullying Redirect offers a restorative justice piece. Kids can rebuild their relationships and they’re given an opportunity to grow.”
Classroom management and discipline can consume a teacher’s day, she said, continuing into the evening if phone calls need to be made. When she uses the curriculum, she said, she and her students have more time for learning.
“We have time to get things done and we’re not getting caught up in all the discipline and all the negative energy,” Bartholomew said. “When I’m more cognizant and faithful to the curriculum, the energy in my class is so much more positive.”
After publishing the first edition of the curriculum, DiLallo collected feedback from teachers. What he found was that teachers were not interested in adding another curriculum on top of their already heavy workload. He and Powers reached out to Bartholomew to ask if she would help them connect the curriculum to the themes of Catholic social teaching and Common Core State Standards for the second edition.
“We went to the teachers and learned that the idea of trying to cram in one more program in the school day was overwhelming,” said Powers. “Every page in the curriculum is covered by a standard.”
DiLallo, Powers, and Bartholomew also reorganized the units and wrote a scripted facilitator guide to make it easier for the teachers to use.
The curriculum is divided into three units—“Servant Leadership,” “Pure in Heart,” and “Love Your Neighbor”—and uses common language throughout the program. The pieces of the program are designed to address areas in which today’s students are struggling, DiLallo said, notably leadership, interpersonal relationships, and prayer life. When those things are out of sync, mistreatment can occur.
“The important thing here is that we address the bullying issue, the mistreatment issue,” he said. “There is treatment and there is mistreatment that happens at school, which escalates things and causes contamination to the school culture.”
DiLallo prefers the term “mistreatment” to “bullying” because of the ambiguity and labels that can be associated with bullying. He also sees it in light of Mother Teresa’s philosophy of being pro-peace instead of anti-war, he said.
“Anti- movements historically do not work,” DiLallo said. “If we work in a direction of pro-peace, pro-social skills, and move in the direction of the behaviors that we’re looking for, we’re going to get somewhere.”
A parent guide and educator guide provide supplemental strategies to support the curriculum, and support student growth from home, as well as at school.
“Rather than looking at bullying as a problem, let’s look at it as an opportunity for formation,” DiLallo said. “How can we take all the characters involved—the student that mistreated, the student who was mistreated, the student who witnessed mistreatment, and any other students involved—and turn this into an incredible opportunity for formation, to learn and grow about themselves so that they can take this home and plant this huge seed of Christ’s compassion?”
Bullying Redirect uses both a “Safety Check” and a “Stress Check”, which provide quick access points for the students to articulate how they are feeling on any given day. The teachers can use this as a jumping off point for a further conversation or intervention if necessary. Embedded in the curriculum are techniques for students to self-regulate and reduce stress.
“The sooner we can get to our young people to give them the skills, and realize that these skills that help them take better care of themselves are sacred, the better the ripple effects are to the world,” Powers said. “We should get this out of the bully category and put it in marriage preparation. The whole thing is about communications, about how to look each other in the eye, be concise, and say ‘I’m sorry.’”
Incorporated into the lessons is the importance of prayer and silence. DiLallo provides meditations and personal affirmations to encourage reflection and connection with an inner sense of peace as part of the curriculum.
“The curriculum is really about slowing things down,” DiLallo said. “That’s how all of this is going to change. It’s only going to change with the compassion of Christ.”