Elementary students learn powerful lessons on becoming sweethearts and heroes

Students in all three Monticello Central School District Elementary Schools learned powerful lessons about hope, empathy, and advocacy thanks to Sweethearts and Heroes. According to the organization, Sweethearts & Heroes is a student empowerment and empathy activation team that aims to prevent bullying and suicide with a focus on the basic components of social-emotional learning (SEL).
Director and Founder Tom Murphy, and Retired US Army Sergeant Rick Yarosh
Director and Founder Tom Murphy, and Retired US Army Sergeant Rick Yarosh led presentations at the George L. Cooke Elementary School, Kenneth L. Rutherford Elementary School and the Emma C. Chase Elementary School in December. The presentations all opened up with Mr. Murphy (aka “Mr. Incredible”) defining bullying and the nuances of mean behavior vs. bullying behavior. Once the students had a clear understanding of how to identify bullying, Mr. Yarosh joined the conversation.
young students are seated on the floor of a gym. They are looking off camera and have a surprised look on their faces.
Some students were initially apprehensive and confused when Mr. Yarosh first entered the gym, but that quickly changed once they heard his story.

Mr. Yarosh, who was severely burned in an IED explosion during his service in Iraq discussed how his injuries had impacted his life, and how many “superheroes” along the way helped him cope with challenges, before Mr. Yarosh invited the students to take a crash course on becoming superheroes themselves. The duo then led students in a series of roleplays (complete with superhero costumes) to teach students concrete strategies and actions they can take if they find themselves witnessing an act of bullying.
One of the strategies students learned was “confront the bully using you superpower.” A superpower could be bravery, strength, or sometimes, a trusted adult. This superhero went into the audience to grab a teacher for assistance in confronting the “bully.”


In presentations for the older students, the pair also expanded to include how in addition to heroes, “sweethearts” play an important role by pouring hope into folks who need it. The older students also participated in “circles” where they broke into small groups to discuss personal challenges and solutions in an exercise to build empathy. They also participated in a Q&A session with Mr. Yarosh, where they asked many questions about his life experiences.
students are sitting in a circle and talking to one another
Older students participated in circles after the presentation, where they discussed challenges and solutions in an effort to build empathy.
“We aim to stop students from making destructive decisions and help them treat each other with kindness,” Mr. Murphy said. We also make our messages sustainable in schools, so that they have an eventual and sustainable effect on the local community. The spider web effect is powerful and incredible, and there is hope for everyone.”