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Tuesday, September 23, 2014

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Volunteers lose control of Kool to Be Kind as program falls under schools' umbrella

Published 7:28 am, Tuesday, April 29, 2014

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  • Jill Mann, a parent, was one of about a dozen people speaking on behalf of Kool to be Kind, also known as K2BK, an empathy-based, anti-bullying program Monday at the Board of Education meeting in Staples High School. Photo: Anne M. Amato / westport news
    Jill Mann, a parent, was one of about a dozen people speaking on behalf of Kool to be Kind, also known as K2BK, an empathy-based, anti-bullying program Monday at the Board of Education meeting in Staples High School. Photo: Anne M. Amato

 

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Despite last-minute pleas Monday to the Board of Education, the volunteer-run Kool to Be Kind program will be integrated into a school district-managed program beginning in the fall.

Kool to Be Kind, also known as K2BK, is an empathy-based, anti-bullying program in which Staples High School students serve as mentors or third-graders, and teach them not only about kindness but also ways to deal with bullies.

The new program will maintain the role of the high school mentors, who will be trained by school staff, those at Monday's school board meeting were told. A high school advisor will also oversee the Kool to Be Kind group, which started four years ago.

"High school students will continue as role models," said Cyndy Gilchrest, the district's director of elementary education. She added that "most of the components" of the existing program will continue. "We will be able to pull pieces of it," she said. Gilchrest said officials are open to having dialogue with the K2BK organizers.

Sarah Green, one of the founders, said they started the program four years, and has found it to be successful in addressing its goals. K2BK, as now constituted, is not approved or endorsed by the Board of Education.

"Our program does not contradict lessons of social skills" taught by school system staffers, Green said. She said it just teaches students to "behave kindly."

Green asked for one more year of the volunteer-run program before school officials take over.

One parent in the audience said the Kool to Be Kind founders "told me that in the four years in existence, 120 high school students" were involved in the program, and that they mentored 1,300 third-graders. "It cost them $9,000 per year, mostly for transportation," she added. "That's 0.005 percent of the school budget or about $15 per student per year," she said. "It looks like you're looking a gift horse in the mouth," she told board members and school administrators.

"We have given this a great deal of thought," Gilchrest said following public comment. "This is an area with true philosophical differences."

She said the program falls within a "curriculum area, like math and science, and we can't give away our responsibility in that area."

Board member Karen Kleine said she hopes "some kind of compromise" can be reached. "I'd love to see it be a win/win," she told Kool to Be Kind advocates in the audience.

Fellow board member Jeannie Smith said that as a parent and board member she hopes "this discussion" about kindness would continue through the community.

"Nobody enters this profession to be cruel to anybody," Superintendent of Schools Elliott Landon said.

"We want to do what's best for kids," he said. "We don't want you to think we don't make kindness a priority." Landon added he didn't want people to walk away from the meeting thinking that without K2BK the school system would be "going to hell in a hand basket."

The school system currently has a Responsible Classroom program, sanctioned by the school board, which is designed or children in kindergarten and grades one to five, and not just the third grade like Kool to Be Kind.

Landon said the new program would be "better and stronger" than the current one. Elaine Whitney, the board chairwoman, agreed, saying it would be "strong and robust, but in line with the board's curriculum."

Landon said once the programs are integrated in the summer, he would have more details about the new offering.