Playing nice: How nonprofit's approach curbs bullying

GRESHAM, Ore. - Recess is different at Highland Elementary School in Gresham.

You won't necessarily spot it with one trip to the playground, but the students are more cooperative with each other.

"It really is amazing," said Highland teacher Amy Hudson. "The school climate, whether it's on the playground, or in the hallway, or in the classroom, has changed dramatically since having Playworks."

Playworks is national nonprofit that teaches kids how to play, especially at recess. Coaches teach non-confrontational decision making skills to help kids play nicely and cooperate.

"I've heard about it for years, but seeing it in action is a totally different thing." said Highland Principal Becky Kadrmas.

They really focus on being inclusive.

"You'll see a lot of rock, paper, scissors because that's how they decide who's in, who's out, who won," Kadrmas said. "A perfect example is when we used to play tag, and once you're out, you're out. Playworks has tag games where you can be out, but you're out for three seconds and then you get back in again."

The end result is a big reduction in bullying without ever addressing the topic.

Schools where half of the student population qualifies for free or reduced lunches are eligible to get a Playworks coach. The coach comes to a school for an entire year to guide students through the process. It costs $60,000 to $70,000 for that. The school pays about 40 percent of the cost while Playworks pays the rest.

"It's a really subtle way of going around the bullying issue," Hudson said. "Encouraging the positive, teaching them the positive way of doing things, instead of focusing on the 'don't do this, don't do that.'"