February 2012 Archives

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As a student teacher finishing up her final year at Penn State Brandywine, Elizabeth Panos is combining her acting experience and teaching skills to show her first graders at Upper Merion Bridgeport Elementary School that bullying is never the answer.

Panos found her love of theater (she left college briefly to study acting in New York City) is a valuable teaching tool. She's using role-play to challenge her six- and seven-year-olds to find better ways to handle peer conflict.

"I don't use the word 'bullying,'" she said. "They think everything is bullying, even accidents. I just talk about treating each other with kindness. I know it's an anti-bullying lesson but they don't know that."

Her method is simple.

She began by using peer mediation while student teaching at Aronimink Elementary and in the William Penn School District over the last few years. "I had students talk out their problems, apologize, explain what they would do differently next time and then shake hands or hug. Furthermore, I had them role-play simple and complex situations in the classroom. Simple means someone stole my pencil or called me a name. Complex means hitting," she explained.

After going through this same exercise with her students at Upper Merion, where she's been teaching since the fall, Panos began asking them, "Is that a simple problem or a complex one?" every time they tattled on each other. She then had them work in groups to discover and role-play solutions for each.

Her method is working.

She recalled a few times when a student ran up to her and said, "Miss Panos, Miss Panos! ... Wait, it's 'simple,' I'll do it!" They then go back and say to the person who was mean to them, "'That's not nice, don't call me that.' Then the other student apologizes and they go back to what they were doing," she said. "Tattling still exists, but they're becoming aware of it and sometimes solving the problems on their own, which is where I think it all begins."

To tackle the issue of peer pressure, Panos came up with a role-playing scenario where a student is pressured by a peer to steal a pencil from another student's desk. "Three volunteers demonstrated the bullying scenario and then the students broke into groups to brainstorm and practice better ways to handle the situation. Two groups then acted out the right thing," which was asking to borrow the pencil instead of stealing it. "Another girl just ignored the peer pressure. I prompted one of the students in the role-play to goad her to steal the pencil and she said 'NO, it's not nice!'"

As a reward for solving their problems respectfully and on their own, Panos awards stickers. "Ten stickers earns them a V.I.P lunch with me. I bring in a table cloth, some music, a palm tree center piece," she said. For 20 stickers the student becomes a special helper for the day and so on. Turns out, they love one-on-one teacher time.

"It's been working so far!" she said excitedly. The other day "was the first day I gave everyone except two kids a sticker." That's 21 stickers compared to the more typical three per day.

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She said the full-time teacher in her classroom is embracing her lessons and use of arts and theater, but at first she was "a little iffy due to the scripted nature of the curriculum, but she's on board because she also feels it's something important they need to learn. We work out ways to fit it in without interrupting mandatory content areas. We co-teach. We really work together and help the kids."

Panos is hoping to reach teachers and administrators beyond her classroom.

"I want to spread this around. I want to meet with the principals and explain what I'm doing because then they can incorporate this into their schools."

After coming up with much of the anti-bullying curriculum and role-playing on her own, Panos connected with an organization called Stand Together, a global community against bullying.

"I was noticing that my ideas were working, but these are proven to be successful," she said of the Stand Together's anti-bullying curriculum for K-12.

At the end of January she embraced "No Name-Calling Week," created by Stand Together with the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network (GLSEN) and the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP). Her students brainstormed messages to give to other students to stop name-calling. Then they created posters with nice words to replace bad names, and Panos displayed the posters on the bulletin boards outside the classroom.

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"I've been wanting to do this for a really long time," she said. After graduating in May, Panos hopes to "work somewhere where I can be creative and use my skills. I can do it in my classroom but it's nice to get to do it for other kids after school, too. I really want a place with after-school programs." Then later down the road, perhaps a principalship. "Then I'll have the authority to incorporate these programs. But you know, baby steps. I need a teaching job first."

by Risa Pitman, Staff Blogger

Editor's Note: This is the second in a series called "Where Are They Now?" Follow along as alumnus Teron Meyers tracks down Penn State Brandywine alumni and chronicles their quests for stable careers in a challenging job market. Meyers graduated in 2010 with a degree in communications and is working at a pharmacy as he seeks a stable career of his own. 

For most college graduates, that long-awaited day when they confidently walk onto the stage in the Penn State Brandywine Gymnasium to receive their degrees brings much joy. Now, at the pinnacle of their academic careers, many new graduates are asking, "What's next?" 

Having graduated at the peak of a recession, Paul Hurych '08 IST had concerns as an up-and-coming professional. But this tech-savvy grad emerged with few kinks to show.

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Hurych began his college career in the fall of 2004 when the campus was still known as Penn State Delaware County. Throughout the next four years he was an active member in various organizations: vice president of the Information Science and Technology (IST) Club and president of the Student Government Association (SGA). He also was a Jane E. Cooper Honors scholar and graduated with high honors.

Having a strong fascination with computers and technology, Hurych was naturally drawn to his major. 

For two years after graduation, he worked as a software developer for McBee Associates in Wayne, before taking his current position at Akcelerant Software, in Malvern -- a move he hopes will help him in the future.

Although his road to a stable career has had few bumps, Hurych did face a few challenges. He remembers that very few companies were hiring when he began his job search. Just getting his foot in the door for an interview proved to be difficult, but not impossible.

"I was one of the lucky members of my graduating class. I had a job lined up for me after I walked," he said. And a little advice: "With the job market being as tight as it is, having a referral for a position will give you a definite advantage over other applicants."

In addition to his work, Hurych is still very much involved at his alma mater. With a knack for leadership, he presently serves as the vice president of the Penn State Brandywine Alumni Society. 

He said the best piece of advice he can give to recent and soon-to-be graduates is to use the large network of Penn State alumni for assistance. He attributes receiving an internship, as well as his current position, to the help of Penn Staters.

Hurych hopes to continue his career in software development, with aspirations of project management down the line. A master's degree in software engineering is on the list, too. Full of Penn State spirit, Hurych knows one thing for sure; he will always stay connected with the Brandywine Alumni Society.

by Teron Meyers '10 Com