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Custodian Sees More Polite Kids, Less Abusive Language

Community's Outreach to Youth Changes Their Behavior

"I know most of the kids and their parents," says Dave Arnold, head custodian at Brownstown Elementary School, in rural Brownstown, Illinois. "I was a student here, too." Being a familiar fixture in the school helps Arnold in his work with students, but he gives credit to the adults in the community for the positive changes in student behavior he's seen over the past few years.

Here are Arnold's thoughts about students in his community and their use of abusive language.


Do you have swearing in your school and how do you handle it?
Very little. This is elementary school, preK-6, but occasionally 5th or 6th graders will let go with something.

We correct them on the spot. I'll say "That's uncalled for. We don't use that language here." If they're persistent and go on with it, I'll take them down to the office and principal will tell them it's just way out of line.

Name Calling

How do you handle name calling?
That's minimal as well. A kid might be overweight and another kid will call him "Fatty" or something like that. There again, we correct them on the spot. "That’s uncalled for. You wouldn't want to be called that yourself." And not really make a big deal of it and make that person feel bad, but just try to correct the kid.

If correcting students in front of other kids will take care of the problem and not embarrass them too much, and make a point with the other children, I'll do it right there.

The most likely time I'll hear something is when I'm cleaning the hallways and fountains, as the kids are coming and going to recess. They're always in a hurry, pushing and shoving and trying to get ahead. Things happen. Or I'll hear something when I'm cleaning bathrooms or locker rooms, when I'm in close proximity with them.

We're very fortunate. We see that kind of behavior in just a small percentage of the kids.

Actually, the majority of kids are more polite now than they used to be. About ten years ago, we had two high school students in a year's time commit suicide. We had alcohol and drug problems too. Adults started to wake up. We knew we had to do something. We got some projects going on in the church to attract the youth. And things improved. Over the last four years, church attendance among youth in this area has doubled. Overall, things are much better than they were.

Threatening Language

How do you handle threatening language?
Here in the elementary school, I haven't seen it.

I've seen it a couple of times in the high schoolers. Once a high school student was expelled from school and came to our school's basketball courts to confront another high school kid who was practicing here. He knew he would catch that student at that time.

He got into it with the other student. I overheard him threaten to kill him. I knew I had to act. I just took him into the office right then. He could have resisted pretty easily and made a bad situation, but he went along with me. We met with the superintendent, the principal, and called in the sheriff (he didn't do anything but put it on record, but he was on the record).

Again, I have to say things are better now—thanks to the changes we've made in the community. Providing activities for the kids, through the churches. Once one church got something started, another church did the same. We have a church way out in the country that has the biggest youth group of any church in the county. They built a fellowship hall—a big gymnasium—where kids can play basketball, hold dances, and set up tables for dinner. The kids go on canoe trips, camp out, go bowling. They started a food pantry, collecting food and clothes for needy people. So it's kids helping kids, too. It's pretty neat all right.

We've got parents who are concerned about their kids and other people's kids and they're giving 110%. It takes everybody doing their part. It's all team work.