The Catalyst

Kindness is Coming

Student Council members attend Kindness Rally in hopes of big changes next year

Photo Courtesy of Millard West

Photo Courtesy of Millard West

Alexandra Dobesh, Staff Writer

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The number one leading cause of death for ages 10-14. The second leading cause of death for ages 15-34. What is it? Suicide. And according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, someone in Nebraska commits suicide every 1.5 days.

These are numbers that school administrators want to change, and they believe a key way to end suicide is to eliminate bullying. On April 16, three Student Council members, social studies teacher and Student Council sponsor Ali Bragg and Principal Greg Tiemann attended the Be Kind Rally at ESU3 with 28 other schools from the Omaha metro area to discuss ways to promote kindness in schools. The rally was held at ESU3 (Educational Service Unit number three).

The day began with guest speaker Ralston Superintendent Mark Adler and his wife Joni Adler who lost their son, Reid Adler, to suicide in 2016. They began the Be Kind campaign in the Ralston school district to share their story and spread suicide awareness and promote forgiveness. Their success has caused other districts to want to spread the campaign to their own schools.

“The Adler’s story was the most inspiring part,” sophomore Ethan Dunn said. “It was a heartfelt and sad story, but it was empowering to see them use this message as a catalyst for change in the community.”

The Adler’s story was followed by a visit from Omaha mayor Jean Stothert. She gave a short speech sharing her support of the Be Kind campaign and encouragement to the students in attendance.

Next, groups of schools were sent to separate rooms, and each group got their own table. Schools brought Student Council members who exhibited strong leadership skills and two administrators. Volunteer leaders at the rally guided small groups through what to discuss, but the discussions themselves were entirely student led. The adults were there to offer suggestions but the students were responsible for coming up with the ideas, organizing a plan and evaluating the effectiveness of their plan in order to make revisions. Their overarching goal: find a way to bring kindness into their schools in an effective way.

“Adults have connections with students, but when it comes to knowing what motivates and excites them, students know best,” Tiemann said. “It’s not that adults are out of touch, but students know what draws their peers’ interest. We need their insight to get this going.”

Each school was asked to brainstorm the issues in their school. They then narrowed those down to the top one or two problems and then thought of possible solutions. Those solutions were broken down into four categories: easy to implement with low impact, easy to implement with high impact, hard to implement with low impact and hard to implement with high impact.

From those solutions, students drew up a proposal for next year on how to implement the Be Kind message in a successful way for the entire year. Each school drew up their plan on Padlet, a sharable page on the computer. It was the responsibility of the students to organize their solutions from the four categories into an effective and engaging plan.

“My favorite part was meeting with the students,” Tiemann said. “They had great energy and excitement, and I enjoyed hearing their thoughts. They weren’t shy; they were organized and took ownership of what they wanted to change.”

In each separate room, schools gathered together based on size and where they were from to share their plans with each other which provided an opportunity for participants to ask questions and offer advice. After each group shared, they were given a little more time to take some of the ideas they had heard and work them into their own plan.

The rally ended with students from each of the 29 schools sharing the major problem they identified and their specific plan for fixing it in the next school year.

“I really enjoyed coming together to hear each school’s plan,” Dunn said. “Hearing all the schools share allowed us to bounce ideas off one another and unify the campaign as a whole.”

Students and adults alike left the campaign feeling inspired and excited for making a difference in their schools. Millard West will be having meetings in the near future in order to turn their plan into a reality. They hope this plan will spark enthusiasm in the student body to create a kinder atmosphere at their school.

“Our main goal is to raise awareness, so students realize when they are being unkind,” Bragg said. “We went to this because we knew this would be a great leadership opportunity, and it would be beneficial to implement the Be Kind campaign in our school. I know we won’t be able to reach everyone, but I hope this will create a kinder atmosphere.”

The city of Omaha will be implementing a Kindness Day on August 24th, and all of schools that attended the rally will be participating.

“I was proud to be a part of this and to help create our Be Kind plan,” Dunn said. “My hope is that this will go beyond our school and into the community as a whole to get rid of bullying. If possible, I hope this could even grow beyond Nebraska.”

The Be Kind slogan will be incorporated into the Wildcat Crazy T-shirts, and the group that attended the rally is planning an assembly with a guest speaker that can provide an emotional experience similar to what they felt with the Adlers. It’s their hope to carry the experience provided in the assembly to small group discussions in Quality Time. The main goal for our school is to raise awareness of the issue and to involve a diverse mix of students in the planning process to provide new and fresh ideas to keep the campaign alive.

Be sure to look out for this campaign during the 2018-2019 school year because Kindness is coming to Millard West.

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