duffy-gaunt-butler-fhSuzanne Duffy, Laraine Gaunt, and Suzanne Butler at the “It’s OK to Be Different” assembly, which helped kick off the “Week of Respect” at Sickles School in Fair Haven.

Press release from Fair Haven School District

At Viola L. Sickles School in Fair Haven, the subject of respect – like reading and writing — is taught all year long. During this year’s state-mandated Week of Respect, Sickles  students participated in meaningful activities designed to reinforce lessons about kindness and acceptance.

A kickoff event was held on Friday, September 30, and featured the “It’s OK to Be Different” assembly presented by the program’s creator and director Laraine Gaunt. An educator whose now-grown children once attended Sickles School, Gaunt introduced “It’s OK to Be Different” in 1978 to teach young children respect for all individuals and to promote understanding and tolerance.

“It’s OK to Be Different” is a year-long initiative at Sickles School and complements the tenets of the Responsive Classroom Philosophy already in place at all grade levels – “Be a Buddy, Not a Bully” (Pre-K and Kindergarten), “Understanding Disabilities” (First Grade), “Respect for Different Learners” (Second Grade), and “Celebrating Cultures”  (Third Grade).

The Week of Respect, which took place from Tuesday through Friday due to a Monday school holiday, included these activities:

• Tuesday, October : A “Stomp Out Bullying” assembly was presented at Sickles School, and the suggested dress code was blue shirts and also sneakers to “stomp out  bullying.”

• Wednesday, October 5:  Students were encouraged to wear mismatched clothing to celebrate differences.

• Thursday, October 6: “Wear your favorite color” to reveal your mood and personality was the dress code, and students were encouraged to befriend someone else wearing the same color .

• Friday, October 7: Students were encouraged to show off the sports jerseys of their favorite teams, since “It’s no sweat to be a fan of respect” was the theme of the day.

Also during the Week of Respect, all Sickles students were given a letter “R” to decorate and display prominently in any location where they felt they needed a “respect” reminder.

And a new addition to the school’s playground – a Buddy Bench – was announced at the Week of Respect kickoff by Sickles School Principal Cheryl Cuddihy. Buddy Benches help fight loneliness and exclusion on the playground. Children can sit on the Buddy Bench to signal that they are feeling lonely and would like to have some company or be included in a playground activity.

The first Buddy Benches were installed at a school in Pennsylvania, and the idea has now spread across the nation. The purchase of a Buddy Bench for Sickles School students was made possible by a collaboration between the Fair Haven PTA and the Borough of Fair Haven.