The dangers of bullying — we’ve heard the horror stories. The acts of children tormenting classmates in person or on the Internet have had tragic consequences. And while most schools have done a good job at trying to create a positive environment, sometimes the best solutions are generated by kids.
Though setting yourself apart from others can be a cool thing for high school and college students, life is all about conforming in middle school. Still, while worried that kids might make fun of them if they learned that they were literally spreading good cheer at Hudson Middle School, Lila Bishop and Sadie Mrakuzic took action anyway.
Sometime before Thanksgiving, the sixth-graders were asked to search for positive quotes to share in a class that focuses on anti-bullying and character leadership.
“I was writing a few down on a sticky note and Lila said ‘We should post them around the school,’ ” Sadie explained, noting that the first message was a quote from Dr. Seuss: “A person is a person no matter how small.”
Because they knew that Principal Kim Cockley and Assistant Principal Karen Weber encouraged positive interaction between students, the girls approached them. They were thrilled with the idea.
“We were so inspired. They just want to make a difference and build up other people — which is what we hope for in our school. We are always talking about taking care of each other, building relationships and connections with other people,” said Cockley, whose school has at least two programs designed to empower youngsters to do what’s right. “We are so proud of them.”
Initially, the girls preferred that no one knew who was posting the notes, but keeping anonymous often meant fast thinking.
“All these seventh- and eighth-[graders] came in [to the girl’s bathroom] and we had to hide. There was one stall left and we ran in there to hide and write the sticky notes as fast as we could,” Lila said, giggling.
Today, the girls make the notes in a small room in the school office, supplied by the school with Post-it Notes and markers.
Lila’s mother, Gina Bishop, praised her daughter when learning that she and a friend had written the notes and approached school administrators about posting them. Soon though, Lila confessed her concerns about negative feedback from her peers.
One of the remarks that the girls overheard was that the notes were “dumb.”
“Being mean is the easier route. … In middle school, a lot of stuff is ‘dumb,’ ” Gina Bishop told her daughter. “For kids in middle school, sometimes it’s easier for them to say something is dumb rather than ‘It’s a cool thing you are trying.’ ”
The girls have been continually reminded from staff and parents that they may never know the positive impact that they are having on others. Still, they were surprised when Cockley recently shared a story with them.
“I was in a classroom … and a girl said, ‘I just want you to know that whoever is posting those notes make my day — every day,’ ” Cockley told the girls. “She said she had really had a rough couple of weeks and it just made her smile each time she saw them.”
A rockin’ time
The Post-it Notes aren’t Lila’s only feel-good project. Last year, when she was in fifth grade, Lila was playing foursquare when she stepped on something. She reached down and picked up a rock. Someone had drawn a smiley face on it.
The soft-spoken child put it in her school desk and took it out when she was feeling blue. At the end of the year, she took the rock home where it was discovered by her mother.
Lila told her the story and suggested that she and her sister, 10-year-old Edie, do something similar to lift a stranger’s spirit. Today, they are drawing smiling faces on rocks along with the positive message, “U rock.” Periodically, they place them at spots such as the outside of stores for people to randomly find.
During a recent visit to Hudson Middle School, the girls’ Post-it Notes were stuck to the walls, drinking fountains and inside the girls’ bathroom.
A note on a soap dispenser read, “Wash away the hate.” On the mirror, messages included “Love your shoes,” “You’re cute” and “You’re amazing — stay strong.”
So why chance the possibility of standing out from other middle school students?
“Because we want to make people feel good about themselves,” Lila said.
“And” Sadie added, “we can’t stop.”
Kim Hone-McMahan can be reached at 330-996-3742 or email@example.com.