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Know What’s Right, Do What’s Right stops bullying by starting young

Emily Stimmel
June16/ 2015

From schoolyard taunts to online harassment, bullying can take many forms and affect kids of all ages. Prevention programs often target middle and high school students, but by the teen years, most kids have already experienced bullying behavior—whether as the instigator or the victim—and have established patterns that are difficult to break. The Marcus L. Ruscitto Memorial Foundation is working to stop bullying before it starts by addressing the roots of the problem.

The Foundation provides small grants to support anti-bullying initiatives at local preschools and elementary schools through its Know What’s Right, Do What’s Right™ program. The hope is that, through a two-pronged approach combining evidence-based education and entertainment, kids ages three to eight will learn appropriate behaviors and build a toolbox of important prevention and coping strategies that will help them for years to come.

When the Marcus L. Ruscitto Memorial Foundation was established, its board members noticed a void in funding opportunities for anti-bullying campaigns aimed at younger children. Seeking a way to deliver the most impact with limited financial resources, the board chose to fill that void with a unique curriculum that focuses on shaping positive behaviors among preschoolers and young children. “It’s really about behavior at this age—helping kids understand what’s appropriate and what’s not,” says board member Jonathan H. Rosenson.

The educational component of Know What’s Right, Do What’s Right™ is the I Can Problem Solve curriculum, which focuses on enhancing interpersonal cognitive processes and problem-solving skills among young kids. The evidence-based program, pioneered by Dr. Myrna Shure, PhD at Drexel University, aims to teach kids how to think—not what to think. The curriculum emphasizes empathy, understanding consequences and finding creative, non-violent solutions to conflicts.

The second piece of the campaign is accomplished through media outreach and entertainment. The Foundation’s namesake, Marcus L. Ruscitto, was a member of the Board of Directors of WQED, so a partnership with the public TV station was a natural extension of Ruscitto’s legacy. And on a more practical level, WQED—home to Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, Sesame Street and other favorites among the preschool crowd—is an ideal vehicle to reach young children.

Through its partnership with WQED, Know What’s Right, Do What’s Right™ is disseminating its message of kindness and acceptance through video clips featuring popular kids’ comedy duo Josh Verbanets and Gab Bonesso of The Josh & Gab Show. Grant funding is also available for interactive school assemblies featuring the pair. With kid-friendly humor and loads of energy, Josh & Gab spread an anti-bullying message that’s fun and relatable—never preachy. Simple lyrics help, too. “Being able to sing and repeat the songs stays with the kids after assemblies,” says Rosenson.

Through a layered messaging approach combining education and entertainment, the Know What’s Right, Do What’s Right™ program impacted 25 schools in the last school year alone. The Foundation is committed to at least two more years delivering innovative, accessible anti-bullying programs through small grants to local preschools and elementary schools.

The next round of funding will be distributed early this fall, but applications are accepted on a rolling basis year-round. Schools that demonstrate financial need and serve children in the three to eight age range are given preference. Educators and parents interested in funding may apply for a grant through the Fund’s website, where you can also learn more about the program, watch videos featuring Josh & Gab and find bullying prevention resources.

Featured photo: Gab Bonesso of The Josh & Gab Show, Photo courtesy of The Josh & Gab Show

Emily Stimmel

Emily fell in love with the written word as a teenager, when she published zines and wrote for her school paper. A former arts & entertainment contributor to Pittsburgh City Paper, Emily has worked in non-profit public relations for over a decade. She enjoys cooking, reading, crafting and exploring Pittsburgh with her husband and two sons.