Opinion: Change in schools is possible in 2020
In 2019, there were more mass killings than any year since the 1970s, with more than two dozen school shootings, including a shooting near Mariner High School in Cape Coral in December that put the school into lockdown.
As an educator and a parent, those statistics are more than distressing. School safety and anti-bullying is a priority in Palm Beach County and across the country.
In our search for curriculum that might help address some of these issues, we became aware of the Charity for Change program’s success for 12 years in Collier County and other schools. In Palm Beach County, we are in our third year of offering Naples-based Charity for Change’s summer and after-school programs, which we use in 32 schools for kindergarten through fifth grade.
Programs such as Charity for Change offer a prevention-based approach to violence and bullying that addresses behavior and character proactively. Instead of reacting to bullies, we need to work from the bottom up, so that bullying doesn’t happen. Current systems are trying to address the symptom and not looking at the root of the problem, which involves teaching children to deal with emotions and interact appropriately.
While schools are focused on academic achievement, often missing is social and emotional learning – the process through which children understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions. As educators, it’s refreshing to have a program that offers both academics and personal enrichment.
Some children will learn these skills at home. Others may not. If we aren’t willing to put forth the effort to teach children how to deal with one another, where will we be? Adding police officers and psychologists to schools is a positive step, but what are the chances the needs of every child will be met?
The Charity for Change program focuses on 19 different character traits, creating real-world instruction, modeling and conversations about topics that impact children’s lives. School offers a safe forum for children to interact and learn social skills. We have seen the positive impacts, including moments when a student has shared concerns, allowing us to address the situation and get the child the help they need.
It’s especially refreshing to offer students an alternative to technology. Charity for Change brings character education to life with multiple approaches that include interactive math games, puppet shows, word puzzles, certificates, lesson plans, kinesthetic activities, visits from charities, volunteer projects, contests, incentive prizes, award shows, and animated and live mascot appearances.
The program also involves parents through family engagement activities. This is a critical piece in so many of our communities where working parents sometimes cannot connect with their child. Involving parents and children in character education and social-emotional learning allows them to have deeper conversations and work on activities together.
Young children in the Charity for Change program experience the power of giving and community involvement, developing empathy and compassion. It’s what we need in all schools to address the root of bullying and violence.
Sheila Galera, a teacher for 25 years, is now an administrator for the School District of Palm Beach County, the 11th largest in the nation and the fifth largest in the state. She is currently working on her doctorate degree, with a focus on social-emotional learning. To learn more about and support Charity for Change programs, visit www.charityforchange.org or call (239) 592-6787.