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Special program helping to eliminate bullying in Palm Beach County schools

Posted: 4:54 AM, Oct 09, 2018
Updated: 2018-10-09 05:06:26-04

October is Bullying Prevention Month across the nation.

This school year, Palm Beach County Schools thinks they might have the key to eliminating bullying once and for all.

That key starts in elementary school.

West Gate Elementary School is one of several schools in the district that is very close to eradicating bullying from its campus.

It's all part of a new program that is in its second year through the  Social and Emotional Learning  Initiative .

The school district applied for a national grant from the Wallace Foundation to bring in staff and training for teachers.

"They knew how to transfer those training and skills over to the children," Dr. Patricia Ordonez-Feliciano, West Gate Elementary principal.

Twice a week, teachers block out time for weekly meetings in the morning and afternoon with kids.

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"They talk about their feelings, but also learning how to interact with each other and how to develop some empathy," said Ordonez-Feliciano. "We can definitely shape the way those kids develop those skills."

And it's that empathy that teachers say is such an important factor.

"They may have never even heard of the word empathy before," said Kaitlyn Kohls, a West Gate third grade teacher. "It's about having them recognize their own feelings and the feelings of other students."

Teachers said they have already seen improvement such as fewer absences and tardies. Last school year, only three instances of bullying reported, a very low number from years past.

"The kids are responding really well to the program and treating each other very well, they don't want anyone to be left out. During recess, they try to pick games that the class can play together," said Kohls.

Because the teachers work game time and other fun activities into the program, they believe that will have a lasting effect on the children.

"It makes it fun so that they don't always realize they're doing a social skill because they're playing a game or doing something with a partner and not even realize it," said Kohls. "They are more socially and emotionally aware."

Also, getting started in the elementary schools ensures an early stop to behaviors and bad habits that could cause children to become bullies in middle school and high school.

"Hopefully set a foundation but it also needs to be taught in middle school and high school as well," said Kohls. 

"These are skills that these children are going to take and use for the rest of their lives," said Ordonez-Feliciano.

Seven schools are now working this program this school year.

The school district is hoping to incorporate even more schools into the program.

To learn more about the program, click here .