During a recent meeting of the Sandy Hook Advisory Commission, a group formed to investigate the factors that drove Adam Lanza to kill 20 children and six adults and to study the state’s mental health system, doctors spoke of the need for schools to adopt concrete principles of inclusion and recognition, in order to become even safer places. “Since what happened in Newtown, people are more aware and more sensitive to what students say,” says Jennifer Ukanowicz-Parrett, a math teacher and team leader at King Philip Middle School in West Hartford, a school with active programs aimed to end bullying while promoting respect and acceptance of differences.
“There’s a poster right outside in all the hallways that says, ‘This is a free-bullying zone’ and if you see bullying, you tell somebody,” says 8th grader Cyrus Henry, explaining his school’s Safe Zones, spots where administrators, teachers and youngsters can talk openly. “It’s going to be part of their life,” says Ukanowicz-Parrett. The school also has a Character Counts program, rewarding students for honesty and helping others. Henry was honored for perseverance: “I was in Spanish class in 6th grade, and I wasn’t very good at it at first but I kept trying and now I have a B plus.” Each month, students are acknowledged publicly, as a way to celebrate positivity in the corridors and classrooms. “It feels great. Everybody is clapping for you. You get a pencil and a certificate,” says Henry. His friend, fellow 8th grader, Kyra Bukowski, agrees: “After awhile, it’s in your mindset. So, you start to do more acts like that without even knowing it.”
Bukowski and her mom recently took Hartford Hospital’s pledge to “Stop the Stigma” (www.stopthestigmact.org), a movement to educate the public about mental illness and eliminate the use of offensive words, such as “psycho” and “demented”, in casual conversation. According to the website, mental disorders are the leading cause of disability in the U.S. So far, the hospital has received 5,500 pledges, working towards a year-long goal of 10,000 promises for change. On Feb. 25, Hartford Hospital and the West Hartford Public Schools will host a forum called “Reducing Myths in Child & Adolescent Mental Health” at 6 p.m. at West Hartford’s Town Hall.
“Watch your thoughts; they become words. Watch your words; they become actions”. Signs and murals with inspirational messages hang everywhere at King Philip, empowering the students. “If there’s a bullying case, I feel like I have a voice and can speak out against it,” says Bukowski. “The atmosphere is so great, I can form these different friendships.” An environment aimed to lessen isolation and increase a basic act: kindness.
>>To contribute your own adventures in motherhood, or to read more from Fox CT reporter Sarah Cody and freelancer Teresa Pelham, go to http://www.ctnow.com/mommyminute.