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Week of Respect Helps Schools Deal with Bullying

Author Kathryn Otoshi brings her anti-bullying message to Tuscan School with her book, One.

With the new going into effect, the first week of October is the 'Week of Respect' in the South Orange-Maplewood School District. Each school has been required to plan some activity — no matter how big or small — around the theme of respect and anti-bullying. 

Tuscan School marked the week by welcoming visiting author Kathryn Otoshi. Otoshi came to talk about her books, One and Zero, which focus on bullying and self-esteem.

Tuscan Library Media Specialist, Roberta Baltin, filled us in on the story behind Otoshi's visit:

Last year, when Tuscan began planning its ROAR (Respect Others and Act Responsibly) Anti-Bullying Book in a Bag program, I reviewed a great many books that dealt with self-esteem, empathy, peace, and being there for one another. I asked for the input of parents, teachers, and other librarians in developing a list of books.

One book, in particular, stood out among the rest because of the simple way it presented the message of standing up for oneself and standing up for each other. It was Kathryn Otoshi’s One.   Exquisitely illustrated, audiences of all ages will appreciate the impact of the message: “It just takes one” to take a stand, it takes one to set the tone, but it takes all to make a difference.

I later read, Zero, the sequel, so to speak to One. In it, Zero is a character who first sees herself as nothing. But upon greater reflection and with the help of her friends (1 through 9), comes to realize that what she perceived as “nothingness,” was “openness,” and that because of what she is, and because she embraces who she is, she provides greater value to herself and others; just like 1 becomes 10 when it is close to zero, and 2 becomes 20, and so on. 

I was so taken by Ms. Otoshi’s books that I contacted her by email in June to see when she would be coming to the east coast. She resides in San Francisco. It is our great fortune that she was able to squeeze us into her busy schedule October 5, coincidently, during New Jersey’s Week of Respect.

This is especially fortuitous for Tuscan School because we will also be launching our ROAR Anti-Bullying Book in a Bag program that week. It is perfect because her message is the message of our program. Tuscan’s ROAR initiative invites parents to partner with us in helping our students explore character issues that deal with self-worth, self-respect, and being there for each other.  

Five times throughout the school year (or what amounts, more or less, to every other month), students will bring home books to share with their families. The books center upon the themes mentioned above, as well as other themes, such as determination, tolerance, celebration of differences, peace. They will also have journals where they will write their reflections based on questions that a committee of Tuscan teachers carefully worked on during the summer.  We are very excited about the program, and have been working to make Tuscan School the most peaceful and productive place it can be.

When Otoshi came to Tuscan School on October 5, she had a demanding schedule of three separate assemblies. We caught her during the last — for the 4th and 5th graders in the afternoon.

Principal Malikah Majeed welcomed Otoshi warmly and also took the opportunity to remind students that Tuscan is a place "where we respect each other."

From the start of Otoshi's presentation, it was clear that the students were going to be engaged and receive enriching information on every level. Besides the messages embedded in One and Zero, Otoshi explained her background in the film industry (she had the kids eating out of her hands after she mentioned that she worked with director George Miller on Happy Feet). Otoshi explained — using some dynamic visual aids — how she saw her books as something akin to the storyboards that are used to map out films.

Later, Otoshi demonstrated the message of One with some large cut-outs of images from the book.

Said Baltin, "Kathryn Otoshi’s visit here is like the icing on the cake."

For more photos are reporting, see Willis Goodmoore's coverage of the assemblies on Tuscan Tidings.

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