A new Mass General for Children (MGfC) initiative aims to teach school-age children to develop a better way to think about and prevent bullying through the “No More Bullying” program. Members of THRIVE – a wellness component of the MGfC Pediatric Epilepsy Program – visited the Curley K-8 School in Jamaica Plain for one week in March, one hour per day, to teach students what bullying behavior is, where it comes from and how to help people who are being bullied. Lessons focused on key concepts including self-control, compassion and responsibility. This was the third time Thrive has visited the Curley School.

Amy Morgan, PhD, MGfC staff neuropsychologist and one of Thrive’s founders, says children with medical conditions often struggle and are targets of bullying because of their differences. Although the Epilepsy Program staff help children on an individual basis, she realized a better way to address the problem was by working in the schools.

“One of the things we deal with most is bullying because some of the kids can present as a little bit different,” she says. “Some are physically disabled and might have seizures in class and become a target for bullying. The overall goal is to focus on social-emotional and executive functioning as these are the skills most important for success in all children’s lives. Focusing on developing these critical skills helps children develop empathy and makes learning more effective.”

On the first day of the program, students received a journal to write notes reflecting on the initiatives’ lessons and activities. Students also were assigned homework to practice the new core concepts. Each day, Morgan brought Halle – a black labrador – who helped the students open up and better relate to some of the key concepts. The students also were visited by Samantha Alberino, an MGH patient who has epilepsy, to share her experiences with bullying, which included getting mocked when she had seizures at school.

“Overall I think it was a very positive experience. The day that the patient came in, they were moved by what she said,” says Theresa Brophy, Curley School fifth grade teacher. “They learned something brand new. They learned about this condition that was new to them – epilepsy – but also met a girl who was so relatable. To me, it made a huge impact. I can guarantee that they will think twice if they see someone having a seizure.”

On the final day of the program, Brophy’s students settled into small groups and created posters using drawings, photographs and words to describe what they had learned throughout the week. The students will present their posters to kindergartners to share what they’ve learned.

Yoscairy Tejeda, 11, talked about Samantha’s visit to her class, and what she learned from it. “My favorite part was Samantha talking about her condition,” says Tejeda. “Sticking up for someone is good and being kind is really important.”

While the initiative is evolving, Morgan will increase the amount of time spent at the Curley School before trying to implement the program in other Boston Schools. The “No More Bullying” program is adapted from the Kansas City, Missouri Wayside Waifs Program. 

This article was originally published in the 04/19/19 Hotline issue.