Red vests help kids overcome shyness

ARLINGTON — On the Pioneer Elementary School playground, the shy child has a new refuge from a lonely recess.

The youngster who was the odd one out in choosing sides for a game can find an instant playmate.

The kindergartner can learn the lay of the land from a play-savvy fifth-grader.

Earlier this year, students at the Arlington school came up with a new idea for looking out for one another. Each recess, on a rotating basis, a few students put on red mesh vests to let others know they will be happy to play with them.

“A lot of the kids are alone at recess, and we thought it would be nice to help them,” said Emily Hawks, 11, a fifth-grader who was wearing a red vest during recess the other day. “I think it’s making a big difference.”

“It’s really fun to watch kids eventually come out of their shells and interact.”

Emily remembers introducing one little girl to another.

“I found her a friend and she never came back,” she said.

The red vest emboldens Natalie Mackey to help others; she can understand the awkwardness some kids face on the playground.

“When I’m not wearing the vest, I’m kind of shy,” she said. “I don’t really go up to little kids.”

First-grader Seth Roberts, 6, likes the red-vest option. He found an instant playmate the other day who was willing “to play what I wanted to play.”

Principal Karl Olson said some children “just need an older role model” to learn from.

The idea is one of many being worked into schools across Arlington. They are part of the district’s Respect program, which encourages students from elementary through high school to develop activities and events to prevent harassment, intimidation, bullying and prejudice.

Kimala Stewart, a special-education teacher, works with Pioneer’s Respect team. She believes the program can be particularly helpful for some children with special needs or really young kids who need help learning how to play.

She likes the fact that students realized some of their classmates could find themselves alone at recess and wanted to help.

“They thought they should do something about that and they did,” she said.

Reporter Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446 or

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