Prospect Heights

Innovative program to improve kids’ relationships comes to Brooklyn

Philanthropist Sanford feels respect between the sexes can be learned in school

June 2, 2015 By Mary Frost Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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The philanthropist helping to fund a $30 million education initiative designed to improve children’s relationships visited Brooklyn’s P.S. 9 in Prospect Heights on Tuesday to see one of his programs in action.

Banking mogul T. Denny Sanford seemed right at home sitting beside preschool teacher Thania Hernandez as she read a story to the kids featuring Z, a character from outer space. In the series, Z teaches students how to respect each other and find solutions together.

The Z story of the day was about “deciding together,” Hernandez told the adorable preschoolers, who gamely ignored the news cameras and flashing lights to listen to the story and answer questions about sharing and respect.

Later, they collaborated on coloring pictures of butterflies. “You’re doing a good job staying within the lines,” Sanford told one girl.

The Harmony Program is designed to strengthen positive peer relationships among children from pre-K to grade 6, reduce bullying and improve the learning atmosphere. Backers say the program has been found to have positive impacts in strengthening academic performance in math and reading and increasing empathy between children.

Sanford places a particular emphasis on improving the relationship between the sexes.

“What we really need is more collaboration between males and females, and more respect,” he said. By acting preventively, the program will “really make a difference in how males and females get along in adult life.”

Sanford told the Brooklyn Eagle that he hopes the Harmony program will one day “reduce the dislocation between adult couples and get them to understand the opposite gender, and recognize and realize accept the fact that we’re wired differently and we’re going to react to things in a different fashion.”

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Sanford says he’s taking the long view. “There’s no instant cure – that we all know. Look at the divorce rate.”

The second program, called the Sanford Inspire Program, provides free online modules to schools on inspiring teaching approaches.

“The Inspire program to give kids a real chance, a start — to light a fire in them,” Sanford said. “They all have the capability, but someone needs to light a fire.”

Sanford established and funded the Sanford Education Center in 2014. Long Island University Brooklyn (LIU) is spearheading the rollout of the Sanford Harmony and Inspire programs to seven schools in Brooklyn.

The Brooklyn rollout is part of a $30 million nationwide initiative that is administered by San Diego-based National University. The funds for the expansion come from Sanford, anonymous donors and National University.

LIU President Kimberly Cline. Photo by Mary Frost“We’re in a collaborative with National University and Denny Sanford to really take the Harmony and Inspire programs throughout the whole northeast,” Kimberly Cline, president of LIU, told the Eagle. “It’s something that’s totally free to the schools, so it’s wonderful to see what children get out of this.”

She said LIU was inspired by the programs because “we have a really strong school of education, we’re embedded in the community, and we like to give back. We feel that these are the programs that will make the most difference in the community.”

Sandra D’Avilar, Principal of P.S. 9, explained that the Harmony Program is integrated within the day-to-day curriculum.

The teacher “does a complete unit. She ties in the program … with her science curriculum, with her social studies curriculum, and it’s all integrated and wholesome for the students,” she said.

Originally developed by Arizona State University, Sanford Harmony is now in the process of being introduced or being actively used in more than 1,200 classrooms nationwide, with plans to expand it to more than 2,000 schools in the next year.

Sanford has given away more than $500 million to an array of children’s organizations and hospitals, according to Inside Philanthropy.

His motto is, “Aspire to inspire before you expire.”

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