Do you see students at your school sitting alone or having a hard time making friends? For many students, navigating the schoolyard at break or finding a lunch buddy can be challenging and overwhelming. Sitting by oneself is a lonely experience. In some cases, students who are by themselves become targets for bullying. Feeling socially isolated can also cause poor academic performance. What does your school do to encourage students to engage with others outside their groups or who may be feeling alone and ostracized? We have a few ideas below to help your students find a welcoming place at school.
For older students, a new app called Sit With Us helps students who have difficulty finding a place to sit for lunch or hang out find a welcoming group. The app allows students to designate themselves as “ambassadors,” thereby inviting others to join them. Ambassadors can then post “open lunch” events, which signal to anyone seeking company that they’re invited to join the ambassadors’ table. Sit with Us is a mobile app that is designed to create a kinder more inclusive school community. It was designed by 16-year Natalie Hampton after she experienced bullying and loneliness during her seventh-grade year. Hampton told Audie Cornish on NPR’s “All Things Considered” that the reason why she felt an app like this was necessary is because it prevents kids from being publicly rejected and being considered social outcasts by their peers. She is definitely on to something - recent studies conducted by Princeton, Rutgers and Yale University show that when students, especially the “cool kids,” stand up to bullying it has a significant impact. During a 2012-2013 school year, over 50 New Jersey middle schools provided their most socially competent students with social media tools and encouragement to combat bullying, and saw a reduction in student conflict reports by 30 percent.
We think Natalie's app is a great idea, especially for middle and high school students. For those schools where phones aren't allowed or whose students are too young to bring them to school, here are a few other ideas to give kids a chance to feel included:
We've designed our program to be extremely cost effective and budget friendly! The 21 Day Kindness Challenge School Program costs just about $1/student. Our goal is to bring the 21 Day Kindness Challenge to as many schools that want it. Here are some different ways schools have paid for the program:
We believe that giving students the opportunity to raise money for the program provides them with invaluable leadership and career skills. It can also be a bonding experience for students who may be having trouble fitting in or finding friends. Some student leadership groups have raised money by hosting bake sales, rummage sales, runs/walks and other small fundraising activities.
Many school districts have special funds set aside for anti-bullying or wellness campaigns. Check with your district office to see if this is an option for your school.
The 21 Day Kindness Challenge is also a great opportunity to reach out to local community organizations like your rotary club, 4-H, chamber of commerce, Lions Club, etc. for support. Many groups are looking for ways to make an impact for their local students and will provide small grants to your school.
Parent groups are also an excellent resource. You may want to reach out to your parent group (PTA, Home & School Club, Parent Alliance) to see if they will fund the 21 Day Kindness Challenge. We have found that parents are very supportive of programs that will have a significant impact and that directly engage their children.
We are happy to help you! Please contact us, and we would be delighted to provide you with specific funding ideas to meet your school's needs. We have videos, flyers, email, and snail-mail templates, etc. that you can use for community groups and parents.
According to a Canadian study, it takes ten seconds to stop a bully. Can you guess how many people it takes to stop a bully in ten seconds? One! The study found that if even one student spoke up to express disapproval of the bullying incident, the bully typically stopped within ten seconds.
Bullies gain power when no one challenges their behavior. An estimated 85 percent of bullying happens with other students watching. Bystanders often passively watch the incident or aggravate the problem by cheering on the behavior and/or joining in on the behavior.
Here are three strategies you can use to help empower bystanders:
Role play incidents that can foster peer malice and then have a discussion about what a bystander should do to help the situation.
Start the discussions by asking open-ended questions and writing down the answers. Tackle each answer to find a solution that can cultivate kindness, foster friendships and build community.
Many schools have reduced bullying incidents by empowering their student leadership or advisory team to take on the issue of peer malice. Here are some ideas on how to utilize your student leaders or student advisory team:
During any given week children spend more time at school than they spend at home; that gives schools the awesome responsibility to create an environment that emulates family. A place where they are loved and encouraged. A place where they learn to be kind, caring, respectful and engaged.
How do we create a school environment where children feel like they are loved and encouraged, and how do we teach them to be kind, caring, respectful and accepting of differences? Here are five secrets to help you get started on creating a kinder school campus:
Create opportunities to talk. Sit with your students when they are on their snack break or lunch break. Families engage in conversation around the dinner table, so why not use this special time to establish relationships with your students? Create table topics or buy pre-made TABLETOPICS Best Things Ever: Questions to Start Great Conversations (there are several options on Amazon) and have teachers, principals, and staff sit with students during lunch time or breaks. Watch the magic happen! Think of this as an icebreaker that will allow you and your students to develop a stronger connection and open the door for deeper conversations in the future. When this transformation happens, it is important to remember, to be honest, clear, and open.
Encouragement of individuality.
Children, no matter what age, want to be seen, and feel like they belong. Encourage your students to “show off” their uniqueness; all the while cultivating a sense of belonging. This will help build a stronger school community. There are several ways to allow your students to “show off” their uniqueness. At your next staff meeting come up with a list of monthly activities that you can do on campus. Here is one to get you started: at the beginning of the school year give out a whole school homework assignment. Ask every student to create a poster-board with an attached (recent) photo of them that says, ‘What Makes Me Unique.’ When posters are complete, hang them throughout the school.
Commitment to the School.
Create a strong allegiance by creating a team environment. From buddy classes to pep-rallies, make sure everyone feels like they are an important part of the whole. Think win-win when devising a ‘team spirit’ plan for this coming school year. Tell good stories about overcoming challenges, teamwork, togetherness, and toughness. A great resource for these stories is the Chicken Soup for the Soul Series. Our suggestion: Chicken Soup for the Soul: Think Positive: 101 Inspirational Stories about Counting Your Blessings and Having a Positive Attitude.
Developing a value system and moral code for your school will ensure you are on the road to success. Governing your school community by an agreed-upon and known set of values or principles is essential. Work with your students, staff and parents to come up with a list of principles and then write your moral code together. Prominently display the code and value system on campus and refer to your values when making decisions. Ensure you and your students are upholding your school values by creating weekly advisory classes for all students (mix grade levels) and do activities that coincide with your school values.
Connect with others in your community and other neighboring schools. Invite community members to participate in school events such as talent shows or festivals. Encourage grandparents or the retired community members to read stories to younger students, invited community members to an after school or weekend class on a subject they are passionate about, celebrate community members such as police officers and firefighters. Create a community outreach plan and work with your PTA on the details.
Remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day.
Creating a kinder school and a more inclusive environment will take time. Like with any larger undertaking, creating a kinder campus will take hard work, strong leadership, enthusiasm, and dedication.
Let us know.
Share with us how what steps you are going to take to ensure your campus promotes kindness by commenting on this blog post or by sharing on our social media channels Facebook and Twitter.
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Note From the Founder
Hello. I am the founder of the 21 Day Kindness Challenge Program.