Friendship program tackles bullying before it starts

Students at Our Lady of the Rosary are learning to recognize and address bullying before it becomes a problem.

The school is in its second year using the Palmetto Pals Value of Friendship Program, which is designed to give students the power to stop bullying before it starts.

Marianne Tully, principal, said it has been a huge success. For the kids, the best part of the program is the puppet pals — Val, Cal and Sal, with their shock of neon hair — and the fact that everyone gets to take them home for a sleep-over.

Designed for elementary-age children, Tully has focused on students in second through fourth grade. Through the lessons and interaction with the puppets, the children have recognized all sorts of ways that people can be bullied, and are taking steps to stop it.

“It’s important for the kids to learn they aren’t tattling,” Tully said. “They aren’t hurting someone — they’re helping.”

Some examples of bullying that the kids talked about:
• Test grades — Never make fun of someone who makes a low grade.
• Sports — Someone may not be as athletic as your team would like, but choose them anyway because everyone deserves a chance.
• Physical characteristics — Children shouldn’t be picked on because of a birth mark, glasses, or a learning difficulty.
• Doing the right thing — No one should ever be bullied for sticking up for someone and being a Pal.

IMG_5281Ellen de Jong, who lives on Folly Beach and created the program, said the Value of Friendship grew from her book series, “Adventures in South Carolina,” and a side project about a child with autism. During her research for that book, de Jong said she became aware of the disproportionate amount of bullying against children who are challenged in some way.

“Middle school and high school is just frightening with what’s going on with bullying; with suicide in some cases,” she said.

de Jong decided to create an age appropriate program as a way to get in front of the problem, to address bullying at a young age and teach children to be pro-active.

The pilot program was available in 2013, and has expanded to six states. de Jong said schools that have used it or expressed interest include St. Paul the Apostle in Spartanburg, St. Joseph in Anderson, St. Gregory the Great in Bluffton, and Divine Redeemer in Hanahan; plus other private schools such as Charleston Collegiate.

Tully said she adds a bit of a twist to the program by bringing in the Gospels whenever she can, such as when they’re talking about a book, the homily, or in school situations. She said it has really opened the children’s eyes and made them want to help.