by Mike Knaak
Four Kennedy Community School eighth-graders, troubled by social issues in their school and in the world at large, decided to take action.
The result, a day informally named Project Kindness.
While students around the country walked out of class on April 20 to mark the 19th anniversary of the Columbine school shooting, the Kennedy students instead pulled off a day that resembled the teach-ins of the 1960s. The four student leaders met with Principal Laurie Putnam to get approval and help plan the program of seminar topics on current social issues including school safety.
The ideas for seminar topics came from the students, Putnam said. The event came together in about three weeks.
The day begin with an assembly led by organizers Audrey Birkholz, Bethany Knopp, Kayla Okonu and Allison Moon. The four led the assembly of sixth- through eighth-grade students in a silent memorial to student victims of gun violence.
“We have to not fear going to school,” Birkholz said. “A small group of thoughtful kids can change the world.”
Former Kennedy student Sam Brewer, who is now a freshman at Apollo High School, shared his experience participating in the March for Our Lives in Washington, D.C., a month ago. He rode to the rally on a bus with other young people from his synagogue.
“I was really lucky to be there with all these people and be part of something bigger,” Brewer said. “We have the power to make a difference.”
Following the assembly, each student could choose two discussion sessions to attend from about a dozen offered.
The session topics included school and cyber safety, gender and cultural issues and how to resolve conflicts. Community experts led the sessions.
From organizing the event, Knopp said she learned about teamwork and how to get people involved.
Okonu added the planning taught her to be more open-minded.
From working with school leaders, Moon said she learned to appreciate how much work the principal does.
During the day, the school’s younger students participated in activities appropriate for their age. For example, students wrote messages of support and pasted the stickers on every locker.
Putnam tied together the day’s events.
“Instead of a walk-out without understanding the issues, we wanted to have an educational event so students know we are focusing on kindness and unity,” Putnam said.