County Schools Introduce Anti-Bullying Initiative



An effort to make middle schools safer in Sarasota County could soon change the disciplinary environment for eight schools. Following an investment by the Jewish Federation of Sarasota-Manatee and facilitation of the program by the Education Foundation of Sarasota County, the Restorative Strategies initiative will expand from a pilot program at Booker Middle School to start serving multiple campuses, and won’t be stopping there. “We have designed this program to be large-scale,” says Jennifer Vigne, executive director of the Education Foundation. “We will continue to expand this.” 

The program is designed to promote positive behavior through problem-solving, conflict resolution and the careful establishment of expectations. Rex Ingerick, a program specialist with the Sarasota County School District, says the effort stems from successful efforts in Minnesota. The proactive approach increases dialogue between students and administrators through community-building circles. “There are no wrong or right answers in these circles,” he says. School officials will bring the circles into lessons, and conversations will be followed with problem-solving discussions where students themselves are encouraged to come up with solutions for behavior problems in school. 

The effort will also facilitate dialogue when students have problems such as bullying. Ingerick notes that in a social media-connected society, physically separating students at school often doesn’t erase the contact or conflict. “Rather than an arbitrary suspension from school, which for some kids isn’t a penalty and just allows a problem to fester, this seeks to solve the problem that caused the incident to occur,” he says.

The initiative will be employed at Booker Middle, Brookside Middle, Sarasota Middle, McIntosh Middle, Laurel Nokomis, Venice Middle, Heron Creek Middle and Woodland Middle schools.

Howard Tevlowitz, executive director of The Jewish Federation, says the effort will boost the quality of education for all enrolled in the schools. His organization will invest $15,000 to cover the expansion. That money covers the expansion at seven of the schools, while a federal grant will continue to fund the effort at Booker Middle. “Students cannot succeed to the best of their potential if they are subject to difficult and confrontational situations, particularly as it relates to online and in-person bullying, racism and anti-Semitism,” Tevlowitz says. “We believe this investment will help mitigate that problem.”

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