“Stella, I love you! I don’t want you to go. I want you to stay. I want you to stay with me. I love you! I don’t want you to go to seventh grade. Please stay! Love, Evita.” I couldn’t help smiling as I read the card, written in a child’s hand with a different color magic marker for every line. Evita is a first-grader and Stella a sixth-grader at the same school. They’re not sisters but for one year the were almost as close as family.
Their bond arose from a campaign called “Adopt a First-Grader” that is being implemented in several schools across Greece, both public and private, on the initiative of teachers and principals who realized that the best antidote for bullying was right there in the schools. The idea is that a sixth-grader “adopts” a first-grader at the start of the school year and takes on the responsibility of protecting the younger child throughout, offering advice, helping out with problems, and making him or her feel protected and safe.
This year saw a sharp rise in the number of schools adopting the scheme, thanks mainly to the success of a post by well-known Greek blogger Aspa Online (aspaonline.gr), also Evita’s mother, who related the “adoption” experience through the eyes of her daughter, also sharing the card through social networking sites.
As she says in her post, one of the most touching moments of the end-of-year ceremony was when the first-graders and the sixth-graders appeared together.
“The pairs come up holding hands and present something together. They may sing, they may dance or they may play a game. No year is the same; something is always different but the moment of farewell is always very touching. There are hugs, flowers and tears – often from the parents too!”
Reading about these lovely moments, teachers from every corner of Greece came forward and suggested that the “Adopt a First-Grader” initiative be introduced at their schools. Among them were Eleni Peppa and Nelly Kossyva, teachers at a public elementary school in Loutraki, on the Gulf of Corinth.
“We really liked it and decided to adapt the idea to the needs of our own school, using our imaginations,” says Peppa.
The idea was very well received by the students.
“Today, for example, the sixth-graders took the initiative on their own to play with the first-graders in the yard. Other times they make little gifts for them, play with them at break-time and walk them to the principal’s office if they need something. I think it’s the best response to bullying,” Peppa adds.
The two teachers put the idea to the students in the sixth grade and let them decide whether or not to do it.
“We didn’t force it on them. We told them about it and gave them the freedom to choose for themselves. We gave them a day to think about it. If we had enforced it we may even have had the opposite result. Finally, with the exception of a very small percentage, most of the students were excited about it,” Peppa says.
In the days that followed, they agreed on the rules of “adoption” and drafted the relevant “memorandum of cooperation.”
The kids in first grade loved the idea, of course.
“We told the first-graders that the older kids would look after them and they got really excited,” recounts Peppa. “We are still in the early days of the program but I believe it will go well. If we have good intentions and we cultivated the ground properly, success is certain.”
It is a simple idea, but, as Aspa writes, it’s “the simple ideas make life more beautiful.”