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January 16, 2004

MSDB student's art graces calendar

From: Great Falls Tribune, MT - Jan 16, 2004

By ERIC NEWHOUSE Tribune Projects Editor

When 10-year-old Allen Bollinger saw his drawing on the cover of a new calendar Thursday, his eyes got big.

"I like it," he signed to his instructor in the special-needs, second-grade class at the Montana School for the Deaf and the Blind.

But teacher Dessica McKeehan knew Bollinger's excitement ran deeper.

"We talk about the calendar every morning," she said, "So when Allen saw this, his expression was priceless because he recognized his picture on the cover."

The calendar, entitled "Hands are NOT for hitting," is a special project to teach second-graders that aggressive behavior is wrong.

Everyone involved knew that Allen's drawing was special, said Gerry Jennings of the Cascade County Medical Society Alliance, which sponsored the calendar through the Great Falls Public Schools CARE program.

"What immediately struck us was the contrast between the violent hand and the loving hand with the sign language for 'I love you,'" Jennings said.

Just to make the meaning clear, Allen also wrote "I love you" below the loving hand.

That's typical of Allen, a shy youngster who lives in an MSDB cottage, but goes home to visit his parents in Moore once a month.

"Frequently, he signs 'I love you' when he leaves the classroom," said McKeehan. "It's a nice end to our day."

For the past several years, the alliance and the CARE program have been distributing paper poster sheets to all second-graders in the county's public and parochial schools.

The sheets have an anti-aggression message and an open space for a drawing of an appropriate use of hands.

"We get drawings of people holding hands or holding onto a swing," said Jennings.

In past years, the sheets have become placemats, Jennings said.

"But this year, we thought a calendar would be a nice way to remind kids of the appropriate use of their hands," she said.

The calendars have been printed and are being distributed to all second-graders in Cascade County, said Jennings.

This exercise is part of an ongoing campaign by CARE to teach children proper social skills, said Stormy Knight, director of the CARE program.

"I don't think there's anyone who would question that (aggression) is an issue," Knight said.

Many national studies show that television and the media teach kids violence, he explained.

"This is our way of combating the video games that show people being bumped off," said Knight.

For Montana teens, that aggressive behavior frequently shows up in fighting.

According to the Montana Youth Behavior Risk Survey, 40 percent of the seventh- and eighth-graders surveyed said they had been in a fight the previous 12 months.

It said 22 percent of those teens had been in two or more fights in that period.

Elementary school is the best place to prevent such behavior.

"You don't start working on prevention with juniors and seniors," Knight said. "That's a time for full-blown intervention."

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