T. Denny Sanford looks on appreciatively as teacher Meryl Cooper leads her students at Long Island's William S. Covert Elementary School in an exercise from the Sanford Harmony program. (Photo courtesy: LIU)

Sanford Harmony, an ambitious and innovative national program to reduce bullying and promote greater tolerance, received a transformative gift when billionaire philanthropist T. Denny Sanford came to New York and announced that he was donating $100 million to further its goals.

Created in 2014 by the Sanford Education Center at National University, the program is a research-based social and emotional learning project designed to promote positive peer interactions and relationships among all students through lessons and group activities that encourage communication, collaboration and mutual respect.

Currently Sanford Harmony is impacting more than 200,000 students in the New York area through its regional partnership with Long Island University. All told, more than 1 million students from pre-kindergarten through sixth grade are involved.

The South Dakota native was welcomed at the William S. Covert Elementary School in Rockville Centre, one of the first schools to implement the program, by Dr. Kimberly R. Cline, President of Long Island University, the Northeast regional partner for Sanford Harmony.

“As we see more and more corrosive effects of bullying and school violence on our children in our society, the need for Sanford Harmony is greater than ever,” said Dr. Cline in a story reported by Newsday. She was joined by local educators as well as officials including Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone and representatives for New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and Nassau County Executive Laura Curran.

“It really creates harmony among the kids,” Sanford told the Associated Press in a related story. “But as I said, the long-term goal is harmony among adults. Preventative medicine is the purpose of the whole program.”

Sanford was the guest speaker at LIU Post’s commencement ceremony in 2017.

The donation to the National University System, a network of nonprofit educational institutions, is the largest in its history and comes a year after Sanford gave the group $28 million.

According to Newsday, Dr. Michael Cunningham, Chancellor of the National University System, said that the additional money will be distributed on a per-capita basis across the country. So far 31 school districts in New York City and 22 on Long Island are participating. The goal is to reach 20 million students nationwide by 2023.