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The City Journals

Gladiator Guard demonstrates appropriate behavior at recess resulting in positive outcomes

May 02, 2022 08:24PM ● By Julie Slama

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

This spring, Stacie Thompson is reaching out to other upper grade Golden Fields Elementary teachers, taking their suggestions to expand the Gladiator Guard to 16 members.

The Gladiator Guard, named after the school mascot, started this school year when teachers realized students missed more than academics during the pandemic years.

“We noticed how our younger kids were coming off of pandemic learning and weren’t sure what appropriate responses are to one another at recess, or what were appropriate playtime activities,” she said. “When I learned this, I thought this is an opportunity for our sixth-grade students. It would be awesome for them to be able to show by example.”

Last fall, Thompson identified eight sixth-graders who would make up the Guard.

“I saw them at the beginning of the year being positive examples of how to behave appropriately. I knew they were naturally able to help others be nicer to one another,” she said, adding that although she works with student leadership, she chose many of the Guard who showed natural leadership but weren’t part of the student leadership team.

Then, Thompson asked the Guard to go out with each class of first-graders to model “what does it look like when we played together, or what do we do when we hurt someone’s feelings or how do you play to be a good winner or how to lose gracefully.”

She said that initially, the Guard would go out every school day for two weeks. The Guard met with small groups and played alongside the students, demonstrating appropriate behavior and teaching games. For example, they may rotate through four-square, basketball and freeze tag.

“Then they’d group together and ask if the first-graders could do those things when they play together,” she said. “The Guard was the leader; I was there to make sure they were providing positive feedback and answer any questions.”

Slowly, Thompson had the group pull back to a couple days per week.

“The turnaround was in a matter of weeks. It just took off. The kids were playing with each other better. They were even playing games we taught them, and their behavior was not only better at recess, but in the classroom,” she said. “Now I send the Guard out with the younger students as a reward for their good behavior and as an extra set of eyes. It’s also a polite reminder of the best way to play together to make sure everyone still has a good time on the playground.”

Thompson said the Guard is available to be leaders whenever they’re needed. Third-grade teachers recently reached out for the Guard to work with that grade to show positive behavior and demonstrate good sportsmanship.

“It’s been positive for my sixth-graders to be mentors to younger kids and it’s also been great for the younger kids who look up to the older ones and are so excited to have a sixth-grade buddy who is happy to play with them and give them positive feedback. It’s been a good program,” said the third-year Golden Fields teacher who, while teaching a language arts lesson, was recently surprised when a “parade of people walked in” to her portable honoring her as the school’s teacher of the year. “My students loved playing with the first-graders and they’ve really become buddies. They see each other in the hall and give each other a little wave. It’s been really positive and helped all our students make better choices. I hope it helps my sixth-graders continue to make good choices and know how to stand up and be leaders.”

With more teachers nominating students, she hopes to double the group size and have this year’s Guard train next year’s members.

“It’s giving more students an opportunity to benefit both by having a chance to be a mentor and to be mentored. I think it develops those bonds, those relationships, and they can look up to these students and be able to ask for help. That’s important to be able to do that and have someone when they need it,” Thompson said. “It’s just another way we can learn how to be kind to one another and unite our school.”