PALS students show sponsors the results of their support
Published: Thursday, November 14, 2013 at 5:56 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, November 14, 2013 at 5:56 p.m.
Madison Peters, a 13-year-old who, like many kids, has been a victim of bullying, is pushing back. “We want to be the people who knock walls down,” she said.
“No one should feel left out, and no one should sit alone,” said Madison’s cousin, Abigail Coffey, also 13.
The two teens were among students from the Partners in Adolescent Lifestyle Support (PALS) program at Fort Clarke Middle School who spoke before a golf tournament Thursday at Haile Plantation Golf and Country Club to benefit the program.
Last year, the tournament raised roughly $29,000 for PALS. This year’s results won’t be released for about a week, but UF Health’s Jessica Jennings, said she feels confident that number will be broken.
The program, overseen by UF Health, is fully funded by the community, not the school system or local government. To keep costs low, the program relies on volunteers and interns working toward a masters or doctoral degree in the mental health field, who are overseen by a licensed professional.
Created in 2000 in response to the mass shooting at Columbine High School, PALS is designed to combat bullying, violence, suicide and substance abuse. Four other area schools are participating: A. Quinn Jones Center, Buchholz High School, Eastside High School and Gainesville High School.
Middle and high school students learn what to do when a friend is in danger. Students participate in group therapy, individual therapy, self-esteem building exercises and other student-led initiatives, all at no cost to the students.
At Fort Clarke Middle School, students have a no-one-sits-alone policy in the lunchroom. When a student seems to be isolated or lonely, student leaders befriend him or her.
The program does not go after a targeted demographic, but it seeks to reach all students.
“If things are going to change, everyone has to be involved,” said Lucy Marrero, clinical director.
According to Marrero, the program costs about $20,000 per school. Marrero would like to see the program go nationwide, but that would require a very large donation, somewhere in the ballpark of $20 million, she estimated.
Since it began, 30,000 students have participated in the program.
Participating schools, she said, have seen measurable decreases in violence, suicides and bullying, as well as increased grades. Marrero said students who need help receive help, and students who learn how to help their peers learn skills that follow them throughout their lives.