Sanford Program Promotes Harmony at Schools

The statistics are alarming: one out of every three kids is a victim of bullying. It’s an age-old problem that can impact children emotionally and physically. Anti-bullying legislation and campaigns can help, but there’s much more that educators can do to protect kids.

As Bullying Prevention Awareness Month winds down, the Sanford Education Center at National University continues to ramp up efforts to prevent bullying through the building of healthy relationships among all students. The innovative PreK-6th grade Sanford Harmony program, headed by Director Scott Page, has been found to reduce teasing, stereotyping, aggression, and bullying while improving communication, increasing empathy, and student achievement.

The Sanford Education Center is leading the national expansion of the program, which includes training for teachers at 71 public and private schools in San Diego County, impacting more than 15,000 students out of 50,000 nationwide.

Margaret Johnson, former principal of Ocean Beach Elementary in the San Diego Unified School District, serves as the lead ambassador for the Sanford Harmony program. She’s also an adjunct professor in Educational Administration at National University. In an interview, she talks about the importance of building healthy relationships among children and how Sanford Harmony is helping teachers.

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For more information about the Sanford Harmony program, created through the support of philanthropist T. Denny Sanford, and to watch videos about various Harmony modules, please call (844) 480-4500, or

Q: What is bullying?

A: Bullying is when a student is repeatedly exposed over time to negative actions. There’s verbal bullying that involves name calling, teasing, or spreading rumors. Bullying can also be physical and involve hitting, pushing, or destroying things that belong to others. Bullying also includes repeated social isolation when children are purposely left out of groups.

Q: Why does bullying occur?

A: Childhood and elementary school is a dynamic time of new experiences and working and playing with diverse peers.

As our students come from diverse backgrounds, may speak different languages, have different temperaments and communication skills, maturity levels and experiences with other children – school is a whole new world of meeting and making new friends.

Children are still learning a great deal about how to get along with others, and some are less experienced in solving the problems that arise when at school. Unfortunately, some students use aggression to solve problems, rather than more effective ways of conflict resolution.

What we’re accomplishing through Sanford Harmony is helping students explore how we’re alike and embrace how we’re different. We’re helping students develop positive relationships through stories, activities, and lessons designed to improve communication, collaboration and problem solving.

Q: What are some of the building blocks of Sanford Harmony?

A: The everyday practices of “Meet Up and Buddy Up” are the core strategies to building healthy relationships in classrooms.

“Meet Up” is similar to morning meeting when the entire class comes together. Meet Up sessions focus on setting and monitoring goals about how students want to be treated. Students share, celebrate goals, solve problems, and engage in community building activities in as little as 5-15 minutes. The time invested in relationship building means teachers spend less time managing troublesome behavior and more time teaching!

“Buddy Up” is the purposeful pairing of different students who might never spend time together. Kids are like adults, as they tend to spend time with others that they identify with. Through Buddy Up students are paired with a new partner each week to engage in activities, mini-projects, or classroom curriculum.

Q: What are some of the other materials provided by the Sanford Harmony program?

A: Through the generosity of Philanthropist T. Denny Sanford, an anonymous donor, and National University, each teacher receives a Harmony Toolkit that contains stories, lesson plans and activities. The preschool through 6th-grade units cover diversity and inclusion, empathy and critical thinking, communication, problem solving, and peer relationships.

Q: What are teachers telling you about Sanford Harmony?

A: Teachers are thrilled with the flexibility of Harmony. Meet Up and Buddy Up are easy to implement and infuse into classroom routines. They select the lessons and activities that most fit their classroom needs.

Harmony teachers share they’re no longer putting out fires all day in terms of student relationships. When you have a healthy classroom community, teachers can teach and children can learn!

What is most exciting is how Harmony teachers are sharing their success stories and observing increased empathy among their students. When students know one another and support one another, they’re less likely to tease, bully, or isolate other students.

While Harmony is designed for Pre-K through 6th grade, things are going so well that we also have several schools that are using the Meet Up and Buddy Up program in 7th and 8th grades.

Q: What’s next for the Sanford Harmony program?

A: Last year was our roll out for Harmony and we have numerous schools throughout the country who are currently in the implementation phase. We’re also being contacted by districts, schools, teachers, and parents and after school organizations who would like to see Harmony become part of their schools.

Last summer, National University formed the Sanford Education Collaborative to disseminate Harmony in coordination with eight other universities around the country. Sanford Harmony ambassadors and liaisons work with school staff and university faculties to design an implementation and training support plan for the effective implementation of harmony.

Q: What can parents do to help?

A: Parents want to know that their children feel included in their classrooms and are an important part their learning community. Sanford Harmony addresses that through engaging children in activities to build communication, collaboration, and cooperation and gain life long relationship skills that promote respect and self-confidence.

The Harmony teacher kits include school home communication to share with parents. The Harmony website also offers modules for parents to watch Meet Up and Buddy Up as well as classroom lessons and activities. We know that family and community investment in the importance of relationship building enhances the Harmony experience and we want to encourage that. In fact, we’re receiving inquiries from PTA and school site council parents who are interested in Harmony for their schools.

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