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Carroll County Public Schools’ Winfield Elementary School in Maryland launched an anti-bullying campaign this month that’s designed to instill kindness and compassion among young students, skills lost with the erosion of character education in American schools.

As students streamed into Winfield on Monday, they were greeted with chalk messages including "bully-free zone," "be kind," and "Wildcat Warriors," as well as the school mascot "Winfield Wildcat," who encouraged students to sign up for a new "bully-free pledge," the Carroll County Times reports.

The pledge was spelled out on a big blue board where students signed their names alongside their teachers, promising to treat each other with dignity and respect.

"(Winfield is doing) what we can do here as a community to change the life of the kids starting in elementary school, which I feel is the biggest thing," Jackie Diachenko, the school's nurse, told the news site.

The nurse said that throughout Winfield’s Bullying Awareness Week, students will learn to differentiate between appropriate and inappropriate behavior, the importance of treating themselves and others with respect, and other lessons about good character that were once part of the curriculum in schools.

Diachenko also told the Times that the Bullying Awareness Week follows a Bullying Awareness Club she launched at Winfield last year. It also coincides with National Bullying Prevention Awareness Month.

“What empathy we feel may help us understand someone else’s needs, and even feel the desire to help that person. But without embedded habits and moral traditions, empathy does not tell us what to do, nor when, nor how,” according to James Hunter in The Tragedy of Moral Education.

Signing a pledge is a good idea if students learn to keep their promises and get in the habit of treating others with dignity and respect. This can be reinforced by teaching and modeling character in the school and the home, establishing habits of kindness and empathy so that when students are tempted to bully other students, they have the habits of resisting that urge and a community of other students and adults who will reinforce the students’ self-restraint.

"The way the world is now and what we’re growing up in—I feel like if we’re able to make a difference and stop the negativity at such a young age, then it’s going to radiate through their life," Diachenko said.

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