WILLINGBORO, NJ--(Marketwire - Oct 24, 2012) - With October designated 'National Bullying Prevention Awareness Month,' many schools are addressing the crisis through written policies and one-shot awareness efforts. But one school for the disabled is taking a novel approach by moving the lesson out of the schoolyard and into the barnyard.
This fall, Garfield Park Academy became New Jersey's only state-approved private school for the disabled to use horses as part of an anti-bullying program.
"Equine assisted therapy (EAP) is a perfect -- and safe -- way for students to learn about the effects of bullying," said Kathy Krupa, director and founder of Horsetime, an organization offering certified equine assisted psychotherapy. "Because horses in a group have a natural dynamic that relies on hierarchy and dominance, horse behavior looks a lot like bullying."
EAP brings together a licensed therapist and a trained horse professional. Students learn about themselves and others by participating in structured activities, and then discussing feelings, behaviors and patterns they notice. Activities take place without ever getting on the horse.
Using a program called 'Bully in the Barn,' Krupa guides students with social, emotional and learning disabilities through a sequential curriculum that addresses bullying from a unique perspective. Her efforts are supported by social workers at the school, who work with students to read stories about bullying and to journal their experiences.
Jenny Ribeiro-deSa, LCSW, a school social worker at Garfield Park Academy, believes the horses help teach the students compassion and problem-solving skills.
"Students see bigger horses trying to intimidate smaller ones and they identify with what they see. Many want to help the smaller horses, and will actually speak up and tell the bigger, more dominant horses, 'Hey, knock it off.'"
After working with the horses, Riberio-deSa encourages her students to relate their experiences back to their own lives.
"The program works because it fully engages the students in ways that more traditional anti-bullying programs simply cannot," she said. "Our students are motivated to be there -- they want to be outside with the horses and be part of the program."
New research suggests that more than half of all adolescents with disabilities are bullied, as compared to about 10% of typically developing students. School dropout rates and absences among victims of bullying are much higher than among other students. Children who have been identified as a bully by age eight are six times more likely to have a criminal conviction by age 24, and are also more prone to becoming child and spouse abusers.
Garfield Park Academy, in Willingboro New Jersey, is a state-approved, not-for-profit school that provides effective, evidence-based special education services for students in grades K-12 who have a history of learning, social, emotional and behavioral challenges. Students are placed by their local school district at no cost to parents. www.garfieldparkacademy.org