Fort Lauderdale, Fla. – During the height of the coronavirus pandemic, when Broward County Public School (BCPS) students were socially distancing and learning remotely, they extended the kindness of the BROWARD STOPS Violence program into the community, instead of into their school hallways and classrooms.
Broward STOPS Violence stands for Broward County Public Schools, Teachers, Organizations, Parents, and Students against Violence. The program is active in every middle and high school in BCPS.
Started in 2018 with a pilot group of schools, the grant-funded STOPS Violence program aims to empower students to aid other students in overcoming a sense of isolation, loneliness or depression by making deliberate, friendly connections. The program encompasses the SAVE (Students Against Violence Everywhere) PROMISE clubs and the “Start with Hello” initiative, which teaches students to simply greet a person who is alone or appears lonely.
Encouraging students to come to class and staving off isolating thoughts can be positively influenced by building a community within school, which is how the mental health-supported program hopes to STOP Violence, according to Marielande Saint Preux, BCPS program grants facilitator.
Since in-person class instruction has resumed, so have the in-school, studentoriented outreach. However, during the time when students were separated, they creatively found ways to help their neighbors, ﬁrst responders and seniors feel connected, using the STOPS Violence program’s tools. Some clubs were so creative that they were celebrated on a national level.
Several SAVE PROMISE clubs were recognized by Sandy Hook Promise for being the most active clubs on a national level during the 2020-2021 school year: Forest Glen Middle (liaison Shawna Meyer) received the Upstander Award; Walter C. Young Middle (liaison Grisel Berrios) received the Community Engagement Award; Stranahan High (liaison Lilia Francois) received the Youth Encouragement Award; and Nova Middle (liaison Juanda Smith) received the Advocacy Award.
Meyer employed the help of furry friends – her Great Dane therapy dogs Brutus and Bhodi – to help students, teachers and staff at Forest Glen Middle relax and alleviate anxiety. Her students also awarded teachers with Trusted Adult recognitions, or special designations that indicated which classrooms students could enter for support.
Forest Glen and Lyons Creek (liaison Jennifer Fredericks) students also joined forces to create 1250 Valentine’s Day cards for recipients of Meals on Wheels.
“When you get Meals on Wheels, you’re normally a little older, you may have lost your spouse, or may be experiencing social isolation,” said Judy Bremner, 7th grade teacher, who oversees the SAVE PROMISE Club at Sawgrass Springs Middle School, and supports the other program liaisons.
“It’s so great to me to see how these kids are supporting mental health, and the fact that it’s not only these students being nice to each other, but they are also being nice to community members.”
From making signs of “hello” in different languages and holding them up in the Zoom classrooms to painting rocks with messages of hope and putting them around their neighborhoods, Broward students tried their best to keep people’s spirits high during the pandemic.
Liaison Austin Jade Avidan of Charles Flanagan High School encouraged her students to interview each other in order to learn about one another. Students from across the district wrote special messages to ﬁrst responders in Florida and throughout the U.S., in an effort led by liaison Donna Demarco of Plantation High School.
They even touched the heart of a nurse in Pennsylvania.