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Students Teach Empathy by Example in Westport

WESTPORT, Conn. – High school students are cool. At least that’s the sentiment among the third-graders who Staples senior Izzy Baker interacts with as a student leader in the Kool to be Kind anti-bullying program being piloted in two Westport elementary schools.

“They look up to us, and they think we’re really cool,” said Izzy, who's been involved with the program since it first launched. “They also value what we think. When I was a kid, I was the same way.”

That, Izzy said, is the premise of Kool to be Kind, or K2BK, which is now in its second year. Rather than having adults try to teach children about the importance of being kind, the program uses trained high school students to teach interactive lessons that promote kindness, empathy and the creation of allies.

Izzy, one of about 45 Staples student leaders participating in the program, said these lessons often include role-playing and games, which resonate with the students.

Student leader Bo Gibson, also a senior at Staples, agreed that the lessons are getting through to the students. He said he can see a positive change in the students’ behavior.

“Each time I go into the classroom, I see new kids sitting next to each other, and I feel like the class is becoming more of a community,” said Bo. Both he and his triplet brother Jack, former Wreckers football captains, joined the program this past year. “All the students seem more accepting of each other.”

The students are also eager to learn, added Jack. He said the students’ faces “light up” when the student leaders arrive. During lessons, he said “everyone's hand goes up when we ask for volunteers.”

Inspired by Anti-Defamation League programming, K2BK was launched by Westport moms Cindy Eigen, Sarah Green, Melissa Shein and Lynne Goldstein. During its first year, the program was tested in two third-grade classrooms at Long Lots and Coleytown Elementary Schools. Now, it’s being tested in all third-grade classrooms at those schools.

Applications for student leaders for next year are currently being accepted. Staples students, from freshmen to seniors, are encouraged to apply. Candidates may be interviewed and introductory training will begin this spring.

Izzy, Jack and Bo each said they strongly recommend Staples students to apply to be student leaders. Not only does the program benefit the elementary students, Bo said it also helps the student leaders.

“Student leaders learn just as much as the students during the K2BK lessons and everyone could always learn more skills about how to be nice and accepting."

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