First grade teacher with students in a classroom.

Elementary students empowered to make new friends, embrace diversity through Sanford Harmony

The back-to-school season is an exciting time for teachers and students. When school doors open for the first time since summer vacation and children’s smiling faces and enthusiastic chatter fill the halls, the energy surrounding the fresh start is hard to miss.

Part of the flurry of activity for students going back to school is meeting new classmates and making friends. While this can be fun for students, it can also be challenging. One of the tools that more than 60 schools in Washington are using to help children learn to communicate, cooperate, connect, embrace diversity and resolve conflict is Sanford Harmony. That includes the Selah School District, where administrators have reported positive impacts in social emotional learning.

Sanford Harmony is a social emotional learning curriculum that helps children acquire the skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions. These skills are taught with the help of a green extra-terrestrial character called  “Z” through classroom lessons designed for pre-kindergarten to sixth grade students. The program is available in the Pacific Northwest through City University of Seattle and the nationwide expansion effort is being overseen by the National University System (CityU is an affiliate of the System).

CityU alumnus brings social emotional learning program to his students

First grade teacher Andrea Piatz leads a Sanford Harmony lesson with her students at John Campbell Primary in Selah, Washington.

First grade teacher Andrea Piatz leads a Sanford Harmony lesson with her students at John Campbell Primary in Selah, Washington.

Dr. Rob Darling, a City University of Seattle alumnus and principal of John Campbell Primary in the Selah School District, helped introduce Sanford Harmony to his school and across his district in 2015. He explained a bit about how the program works:

“It can be a simple thing where [a teacher] randomly chooses partners for kids, and they get to talk to somebody they may’ve never talked to normally during the school day. They get to have a connection and that connection is what builds a community. So even if they choose not to be best friends with that person, they have formed a little bit of empathy with them.”

Since Sanford Harmony was first introduced, Dr. Darling has seen the program help students form new friendships and create a more open and inclusive school environment.

“I had a teacher say, ‘I’ve never had a better sense of community in my classroom than since we started using this program.’ Dr. Darling said.

In addition to Sanford Harmony’s use in Selah School District’s kindergarten through fifth grade classrooms, the program has also been implemented at pre-kindergarten community daycares that feed into the district’s kindergarten to second grade primary school, which happens to be one of the largest in Washington state. Dr. Darling explained some of the changes he’s observed since it was introduced:

“We’ve seen a real immediate impact in our data on incoming kindergarteners. Every year we take the Washington Kindergarten Inventory of Developing Skills (WaKIDS), and in this assessment, one of the things we assess students on is their social emotional learning. Just from 2015-2016 to last year, we saw a 12 percent increase in our students who were meeting or exceeding the state expectation, and we are also 10 percent higher than the state level. So just in one year of implementing [Sanford Harmony] in the [daycares] in the community, those kids are coming to kindergarten more prepared. So having our community utilizing this program is really already paying big dividends. Now we’ve raised the bar and it’s so much easier to get them into the academic portion and have them doing more rigorous challenges because they’re prepared to take on those challenges.”

Universities introducing Sanford Harmony at no cost to school districts

The Sanford Harmony program, based on the vision of philanthropist T. Denny Sanford, is available at no cost to school districts thanks to the San Diego-based private, nonprofit National University System and the generosity of Mr. Sanford.

Nationwide, the program is in various stages of expansion in more than 40 states, representing more than 500,000 students, and City University of Seattle is working with school districts across the state to bring Sanford Harmony to them.

“Sanford Harmony supports the work of teachers by helping to create harmonious classroom environments that strengthen student relationships and support academic achievement,” said City University of Seattle President Randy Frisch. “City University of Seattle is pleased to be collaborating with Washington state schools and districts, such as the Selah School District, to support the expansion of this effective social emotional learning program.”

City University of Seattle is leading the Pacific Northwest expansion of Sanford Harmony. The national advancement is being led by the private, nonprofit San Diego-based National University System and its Sanford Education Center in collaboration with universities nationwide.

To learn more about the effort in Washington state, please visit the Sanford Education Center at City University of Seattle webpage, or contact Director of Sanford Inspire at City University of Seattle Adrian Hollingsworth. All other inquiries, please contact, Sanford Harmony at National University.