As many Westport parents know, we are currently at risk of losing an important program in our public schools. Kool to be Kind was developed by a group of local psychologists and educators who are also parents of elementary-age children, with the goal of helping our community teach empathy and kindness at an early age. Through the past four years, the program has grown and thrived, encompassing all Westport third grade classrooms. The program's creators have worked with administrators to adapt it to Westport's social skills curriculum. This includes keeping up with the district's rigid and ever-changing vernacular on issues surrounding school bullying. K2BK is run entirely by its parent and high school volunteers and requires virtually no support from the district, other than the nominal cost of busing high school students to the elementary schools. Why then would the board seek to eliminate it?

The school board's attitude toward the Kool to be Kind program is particularly baffling in light of the recent flood of negative attention Westport has received since the explosion of the Yik Yik app, which turned Staples High School into a bloodbath of anonymous bullying just a few weeks ago.

Staples has forbidden students to use the app, but the damage to it's community cannot be measured. As technology advances, there will always be new ways to hurt and insult others. The only logical measure we can take is to impart the value of behaving kindly at a stage when students are most receptive.

The only reason the board has cited for wanting to terminate K2BK is that Westport schools already have a "social skills curriculum" in place. However, this amorphous set of standards in no way conflicts with K2BK's preventative approach. The K2BK program is designed to educate children about empathy in order to stop bullying before it begins. Westport's social skills curriculum has clearly fallen short in addressing this goal. The district itself isn't to blame for the rampant mean-spiritedness that brought Staples high school to a standstill a few weeks ago. However, we clearly need to embrace innovative ideas that aim to combat this type of crisis in the future.

Unfortunately, since K2BK is still very young, it's successes are mostly anecdotal. Although there is no way to measure the program's success yet, anyone familiar with it feels very strongly about the powerful impact it's had on our third graders so far.

Westport has been handed a gift in the form Kool to be Kind -- a well-developed, independently run program designed to combat bullying behavior in our schools before it becomes a widespread crisis. If we can plant the seeds of empathy and kindness in our third graders now, by the time they reach high school, situations like the recent Yik Yak one could be a thing of the past. The cost of keeping the program in place is negligible, while the cost of eliminating it will be immeasurable.

Jill Saluck