Acclaimed Mental Health Program for Kindergarten and First Grade Students Expands in New Jersey

Montclair State University to administer school-based “Zippy’s Friends” curriculum to help thousands of New Jersey children develop healthy coping and social skills

Release Date: December 20, 2012

Zippy’s Friends, an internationally acclaimed school-based program, which was developed in the United Kingdom and is currently in use in 32 countries helping nearly a million children around the world, is now expanding into schools throughout New Jersey, the first state in the nation to offer the mental health program designed especially for kindergarten and first grade students.  

The curriculum, which is based on extensive research and endorsed by the World Health Organization, is taught by specially qualified teachers to help young children develop healthy coping and social skills.

The program was created by the Partnership for Children in the United Kingdom whose staff has designated Montclair State University as the sole licensed provider of Zippy’s Friends in the United States.  The University’s Center for Autism and Early Childhood Mental Health will administer the program, which is being funded through the generous support of the Todd Ouida Children’s Foundation, Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corporation and Montclair State University.

“The international response from teachers, counselors, parents and children to this effective mental health program has been exceptional,” said Dr. Gerard Costa, Director of the Center for Autism and Early Childhood Mental Health in the College of Education and Human Services at Montclair State University.  “Now, with a $10,000 grant from the Todd Ouida Children’s Foundation, which was matched by Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corporation, special preparation  in the use of the curriculum will be made available to 30 additional kindergarten and first grade teachers from several New Jersey school districts, most of which are members of the Montclair State University Network for Educational Renewal (MSUNER).”  Zippy’s Friends was first introduced in New Jersey by Youth Consultation Service Inc. which provided training for 75 educators in 12 elementary schools in Paterson, River Edge, Wayne and Paramus reaching more than 4,600 children.

According to Costa, the data collected from implementing the curriculum in these new districts will provide support for further grant opportunities.  In turn, those districts will serve as models for replicating the curriculum across the state to reach thousands of additional children and to expand the program nationwide.  

“Kindergarten and first grade are both vulnerable and formative years for young children,” said Dr. Costa, “As they are learning reading, writing, math and science, it’s crucial that we teach them how to cope with issues, such as friendship, feeling lonely, bullying, loss, transition to school and facing new experiences, which every five- to seven-year old has to cope with almost daily.”

  • Montclair State’s Center for Autism and Early Childhood Mental Health will begin preparing  more teachers on how to implement the Zippy’s Friends program in January 2013.  The curriculum is delivered by kindergarten and first grade teachers, who will lead 24 weekly lessons that cover six core social and emotional themes: feelings, communication, making and breaking relationships, conflict resolution, dealing with change and loss, and coping.  While the program is particularly helpful to children with emotional difficulties, it is designed for all children.   For more information, contact Gerard Costa, Ph.D., Director, Center for Autism and Early Childhood Mental Health, Montclair State University at 973-655-6685 or
  • Todd Ouida Children’s Foundation, which was created by the Ouida family in memory of 25-year-old Todd Ouida who died on September 11, 2001, provides financial support for  psychological services and other mental health initiatives for children of families in need.  The foundation aims to raise awareness and reduce the stigma of anxiety and depression disorders in children, recognizing the need for early intervention.
  • Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corp provides innovative healthcare solutions that address the evolving needs of patients and societies. Part of the mission of Novartis is to view community engagement as a key component of that commitment to corporate responsibility, and actively support local communities.



Suzanne Bronski
Director of Media Relations
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Meaghan Morin
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(973) 655-4333