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Changing the focus to kindness

LONE TREE – Students at several Douglas County schools are beginning with small acts of kindness, in hopes that they will lead to a larger change in the way kids treat each other in school and elsewhere.

“I feel pretty excited to get everyone to stop bullying and to work harder in being kind to one another,” said Eagle Ridge Elementary fifth-grader Cade Gebhard, after taking part in the school’s first ‘Kindness Campaign’ meeting. “We were learning about how to tell everyone in this school and everyone even around the world to stop bullying and give kindness to one another.”

“You've got to teach them how to be kind, so they learn and everybody can be kind to each other,” added fifth-grader Mollie Thomas. “You have to treat people the way you want to be treated, so they'll treat you nice back. Even if someone is mean to you, you should always be nice back, no matter what.”

While it might seem that the “Golden Rule” is something that every DCSD student should know and practice, the District’s Student Wellness Coordinator, Staci McCormack, says this type of kindness is not the cultural norm in all of our schools.

“We’ve created this culture, this norm that says it is okay to walk around and say, 'Oh, that's so gay' or 'You asked another question in math class? Oh, that's a retard question.' This is just unacceptable,” McCormack said. “Maybe we've forgotten what kindness looks like. Maybe we've forgotten that words really do hurt.”

“My hope is that we can change that culture,” McCormack added. “This is not okay, how we're talking to one another. It is not okay to get on and say horrific things to one another, even though it's anonymous. What is expected, what is okay is intentionally using kind words, being thoughtful about what you're saying about one another. We've got to change the culture.”

For that reason, McCormack is constantly meeting with students at different schools, hoping to empower them and then charge them with making a change in their own buildings and social circles.

“I can't do it alone. So, I'm counting on our students to be that change agent in their own school buildings,” McCormack said.

Whether it is the “Be the Change” program at high schools or the “Kindness Campaign” in elementary and middle schools, the sessions usually begin with the students talking about their experiences in a restorative circle. In many cases, they immediately talk about bullying and other acts of meanness at their schools.

“We talk about their reality as they see it. Then I charge them with a new mission, to shift our thinking around what it looks like to be kind. I believe we inherently know what it looks like, feels like,” McCormack said.

“So often we hear the word ‘bully’, we hear meanness, we hear nastiness, we hear ‘bully’, ‘bully’, ‘bully,’ ” McCormack added. “I'm really challenging all of us to shift our thinking and instead of constantly talking about bullying, meanness and nastiness, what would happen if we were to start talking about kindness, and love, and honor, and respect?”

McCormack says in most of the schools she visits students are fed up with the meanness and are ready to become change agents.  They are fed up with the culture of name calling and intentional isolation of others among their peer groups.  They are tired of judging others and being judged.

“What jazzes me up so, is how ready these students are to be the change. They're ready to go create a campaign of kindness and love where everyone's heart is taken care of. And, they get it. They understand, if I don't feel good inside, I don't have a good day at school,” McCormack said. “ It's empowering to me to be around them. They really are leaders. They're ready to step up.”

She says it is vitally important that students feel honored, connected, safe and secure when they’re in school, before any learning can happen. It is important that children and teens realize they have to take care of one another too. There is a greater responsibility in being the change. 

“If we can't move them from the current culture to ‘I feel loved here, I feel safe emotionally’, then we're not going to have students that are thriving in all kinds of different areas.”

If you are interested in learning more about starting the Kindness Campaign or Be the Change programs at your school, contact Staci McCormack at staci.mccormack[at]dcsdk12[dot]org

You can also learn about the other ways that we are working to keep our kids connected, safe and secure in our special Safety section.

March 18, 2014 | By rmbarber | Category: Prevention and School Culture, Mental Health Intervention

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DCSD is requesting parent input on the health and wellness of our students. Last year, DCSD received a large planning grant from Colorado Health Foundation in an effort to assess how the district supports students through the lens of the Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child model (WSCC). The mission of this grant is to review the current state of DCSD's student health and wellness program, and then formulate a three to five-year plan based on stakeholders’ needs, the latest research, and best practices. As part of this process, we would like your input.

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It may look like a plain, white shipping container was just parked on the backyard grounds of Mountain Vista High School. The contents of the container are anything but plain, though. Walking inside the container, different colors of ambient lighting glow, futuristic-looking equipment and tall towers are suspended from the ceiling, and the humidity level is set to 70 percent. The container has been recycled into a new kind of learning opportunity for students.