Rutgers University Teaches RESPECT to Students
American schools are struggling with a challenge to educate students not only academically, but also to build character in a climate of social upheaval. With shrinking resources, escalating and perhaps even unreasonable academic demands, the character education movement has been stymied on all fronts. The most at risk, but paradoxically undeserved population, are students in middle and high school.
We are psychologists and researchers at Rutgers University. Over the past ten years we have designed and tested a model for the prevention of bullying, sexual harassment and violence for adolescents. Our program is called RESPECT and is for all students-not only those who are targeted as victims and perpetrators. Using a method we call Preparedness Training, we arm students with the information they "miss" because of normal development. From our research we have identified "normative distortions" teenagers have of their peer group-the source of most outbreaks of peer aggression. We have designed a curriculum to correct these misperceptions by grade, so that teenagers are better equipped to protect themselves.
The underpinnings of this research-based program grow out of the theories of Piaget and Erikson. The changes we have discovered in social perception are driven by the maturational constraints of normal cognitive and emotional development. RESPECT uses a pre- and post-test design that allows us to quantify shifts in student perception that scaffold development, leading to enhanced empathy, nature's antidote for aggression.
As we look in hindsight at the bigger picture, Prevention, we realize we have forgotten to take development into account. RESPECT is a "primer;" it fills in the gaps that adolescents are missing in the wake of normal maturation so that they can then use the strategies we teach in traditional intervention programs.
RESPECT training has caught on like a brush fire in major districts across the country, including New York City, Yonkers, Clifton, Montclair, West Orange, Newark, Berkley Heights, Edison, Monmouth County Vocational, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington, D.C., Cleveland, Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles and San Diego. Participating middle and high schools span the affluent suburban to "persistently dangerous" schools.
RESPECT has been found to be effective with a wide range of students including special education, ESL, seriously emotionally disturbed and other special needs groups, and, of course, with the general education population.#
Drs. Steven Dranoff & Wanda Dobrich are psychologists, researchers, educators and authors, each with over 25 years of experience working with adolescents, families, schools and other organizations. They are producers of RESPECT, and have been responsible for bringing the program into major school districts across the U.S. They are also on the faculty of the Graduate School of Applied Professional Psychology at Rutgers University.