Can Learning Empathy Prevent Bullying?
Heartfulness eMagazine|September 2021
LYNNE AZARCHI is the Executive Director of the Kidsbridge Tolerance Center in New Jersey. It is the only youth-oriented tolerance center in the US. The center focuses on providing an immersive learning experience for children from kindergarten to eighth grade around the strategies of bullying prevention, diversity appreciation and respect. In this interview with EMMA IVATURI, Lynne talks about Kidsbridge, key principles that every classroom carries, and the importance of empathy in a learning environment.
LYNNE AZARCHI
Q: What are the origins of Kidsbridge?

Kidsbridge was started twenty years ago by a young man whose mother was a teacher. He started the organization in her honor, realizing that more than ever before there was a need to teach children and educators diversity appreciation and bullying prevention. We started with the concept of a multicultural museum to teach children about respect and kindness, and ten years ago the museum opened. It is now called the Kidsbridge Tolerance Center. Since then, we have built upon the original concept with activities that address kindness, respect, sensitivity to people with disabilities, victim empowerment for bullying, and being an UPstander.

As the years have passed, we have adapted in order to keep up with the fact that society and kids are changing so quickly. As a result of our research and assessments, our activities have improved a lot. For example, we had a Kid Heroes room, but then learned from our research that not every kid feels that they can be a hero, so that activity evolved into being about personal strengths and working with others as a team. Other activities have evolved from teachers’ comments or parents saying something.

By listening to people, and supporting our activities with research, the Kidsbridge activities are now research-informed and evidence-based. We can show statistically significant improvements in empathy, empowerment, and moral reasoning as a result of our programs. We do assessments and make sure each activity is effective.

Q: What is an UPStander, and how do you encourage every child to be one?

We start with personal strengths. Kids self-identify with the things they’re good at, so we help them discover how those individual strengths can be used in some way to be an UPStander. Not everyone can be a leader, but they can help others as a follower or a supporter. We have an activity where we provide strategies and tactics on how to approach a bullying or name-calling situation.

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