Sanford Education Collaborative Formed to Improve Academic Performance, Reduce Bullying

This fall, children in pre-kindergarten and kindergarten classes in several schools in Maine will be introduced to a lovable stranded visitor from outer space named Zappazipplezenzoozery, or Z.

In a series of books, the children will help Z learn about life on Earth and getting along with others. The stories, as well as practice and lessons, emphasize positive interactions, discovery of shared and unique characteristics and a sense of community.

In 1,200 classrooms in New York, Florida and California, the Sanford Harmony Program is making a difference. Initial research indicates it improves academic performance in reading and math, increases positive attitudes about school, encourages greater empathy and reduces gender stereotyping and classroom aggression.

The University of Maine is expanding the initiative statewide as a member of the newly formed Sanford Education Collaborative, which was announced June 2.

The collaborative is made up of nine inaugural university members, including nonprofit National University, which is leading the effort. Collaborative members are advancing the research-based education programs originally developed by Arizona State University that incorporate a range of lessons, curriculum resources and activities.

“In this day and age, it is more important than ever to provide opportunities for our children and school communities to understand and value diversity,” says Susan K. Gardner, Interim Dean of the College of Education and Human Development at UMaine.

The Sanford Harmony program is designed to enhance peer relationships in pre-K through sixth-grade classrooms. It focuses on developing interpersonal skills of communication, collaboration, inclusion and empathy to provide a foundation for a healthier society.

UMaine will receive $65,000 to advance the program within the state. The $30 million nationwide initiative to expand the Sanford Education Programs — Sanford Harmony and another program called Sanford Inspire — is administered by San Diego-based National University and inspired by the vision of philanthropist and entrepreneur T. Denny Sanford.

In Maine, the university’s College of Education and Human Development will help disseminate the Sanford Harmony Program to participating schools.

“We are excited to participate in this national consortium and to collaborate with other universities in these efforts,” says Mary Mahoney-O’Neil, Associate Dean of the College of Education and Human Development at UMaine.

The University of Maine was chosen for the collaborative because of the quality of the College of Education and Human Development; its application of research-based knowledge; and field-tested experience to address changing needs of schools, children and families; its strong partnerships with school districts throughout Maine; its professional development programs; and its location.

Allyson Handley, former president of the University of Maine at Augusta, is executive director of Sanford Education Center at National University. She was hired in August 2014 to lead the national implementation of programs dedicated to “A Better Tomorrow,” including the Sanford Harmony Program.

In addition to UMaine, inaugural members of the Sanford Education Collaborative are: National University (California); Long Island University (New York); Nova Southeastern University (Florida); City University of Seattle (Washington); South Dakota State University; University of South Dakota; Touro College (New York); and University of Central Florida.

To read more about the Sanford Education Collaborative, visit

To read more about the Sanford Harmony Program, visit

Contact: Beth Staples, 207.581.3777

Sanford Education Collaborative