Fighting bullying in Philly schools, new CHOP program sees early success


    Small groups of fourth-graders are standing in a long hallway at Childs Elementary School in Philadelphia’s Point Breeze.

    Hand-drawn posters line the walls, illustrating ways to avoid schoolyard conflict.

    “What are they talking about?” says one second-grader, pointing to a pair of crayon-drawn children.

    “It’s ‘cool it before action,'” a fourth-grader replies.

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    Thursday was the day Childs fourth-graders taught Childs second-graders how to prevent fights. It was an early milestone of the PRAISE program — an effort led by the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia that looks to tackle the big problem of school bullying.

    And “cool it before action” is one of the catchphrases that anchor PRAISE. (“CIA” is the shorthand, in this instance.) Others, such as AAA (“assume an accident”), are also meant to help squash confrontations before they escalate.

    “What we’re trying to accomplish is really to empower students to make good choices in tough situations,” said Stephen Leff, a child psychologist who heads up CHOP’s anti-bullying efforts.

    The new PRAISE (Preventing Relational Aggression In Schools Everyday) program is in use at Childs and another elementary school in South Philly. Twice a week, starting last September, CHOP pyschologists come into class, working with teachers on anti-bullying curriculum.

    According to Childs principal Eileen Coutts, so far it’s working pretty well.

    “Last year, we had the entire fourth grade sign bullying contracts because we had such issues,” she said.

    This year? “We have had practically no disciplinary problems with the fourth- and fifth-grade classes who have participated,” Coutts added. That’s about 130 students. In the spring, the PRAISE program will expand to include Childs third-graders.

    “These are the kinds of things that nobody ever stops to think, ‘We need to teach this to the kids,'” Coutts said. “And so I think it’s just been invaluable, I really do.”

    CHOP officials say it’s all about social and emotional learning.

    “And I think schools are recognizing that unless they address that, they’re not going to get the same academic results,” said CHOP’s Christine Waanders, a child psychologist involved in the program. “It’s not traditionally been a part of the school day, but maybe it really needs to be.”

    The PRAISE program is grant funded for three years. CHOP hopes to scale it to other schools.

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