It's Cool to be Kind

October 25, 2019
COURTESY JOANNE MILLER

On August 30, fans of college sports teams celebrated College Colors Day. A fourth grader at Florida’s Altamonte Elementary School wanted to show support for his favorite team, the University of Tennessee (U.T.) Volunteers. But he didn’t have one of the team’s signature orange shirts. So he drew the U.T. logo on a sheet of paper and pinned it to an orange T-shirt.

When he showed up to school in his homemade creation, other children made fun of him. “He was devastated,” his teacher Laura Snyder wrote online on September 4.

Snyder’s post was widely shared. U.T. president Randy Boyd saw it. “I loved his imagination behind designing his own shirt,” Boyd wrote online, on September 5. The college sent the student a package of free U.T. merchandise. Then, on September 6, U.T. announced it would turn the student’s design into an official college T-shirt.

SCHOOL SPIRIT To celebrate a win, U.T.’s mascot, Smokey, wore a shirt like the bullied student’s.

TIM GANGLOFF—CSM/SHUTTERSTOCK

After this announcement, the college store’s website had so many visitors that it crashed. “My student has definitely felt the love and support,” Snyder wrote online.

For a Cause

As of mid-September, more than 50,000 orders had been placed for the T-shirt. The student’s family has decided to donate proceeds from its sale. The money will go to Stomp Out Bullying, a national organization that opposes bullying and cyberbullying. The group has helped more than 5 million students resolve bullying situations. “It’s the most incredible thing for this family to give to a charity,” Ross Ellis told TIME for Kids. She founded Stomp Out Bullying in 2005.

MAKING IT OFFICIAL This U.T. shirt features a fourth- grader’s design. More than 50,000 orders have been placed for the shirt.

STEVE MEGARGEE—AP PHOTO

Ellis says lots of kids are finding ways to make the world a kinder place. “Kids just don’t want bullying in their schools anymore,” she says. “They’re tired of it.”

Ripple Effect

How can others join the effort to prevent bullying? One way, Ellis says, is by learning how to become upstanders. An upstander speaks or acts in support of someone who’s being bullied. “Being an upstander is really important,” Ellis says.

Throughout October, which is National Bullying Prevention Month, schools can participate in antibullying activities. Stomp Out Bullying promotes these activities on its website.

In many classrooms, the quest for kindness continues beyond October. Joanne Miller, a fourth-grade teacher at Pride Elementary, in Deltona, Florida, says her class focuses on inspiring positivity throughout the school year. “We want to start a kindness revolution,” she says.

Miller’s students call themselves the Kindness Squad. They wear special T-shirts as they greet other students with kind words on Friday morning. Deliana Black, 9, is on the Kindness Squad. “Even the small things we do for our class and our school make everyone happy,” she says.

MORNING CHEER The Kindness Squad greets students on a Friday.

COURTESY JOANNE MILLER

“One act starts a ripple effect,” Miller says. “If one person does something, then the next person does something, and the next.”

Ellis, of Stomp Out Bullying, hopes the ripple effect started by the U.T. shirt will be felt around the world. She’s glad the money from its sale will help stop bullying. “The money,” she says, “will go far in helping kids who haven’t been helped yet.”

Standing Together

The kindness revolution is taking place in high schools, too. Lou Riolo is the principal of Carmel High School, in New York. This year, he asked the class for silence when senior Jack Higgins went up on the graduation stage. Higgins has a form of autism that makes him oversensitive to sound. Along with silently clapping, students gave Higgins a surprise standing ovation.

QUIETLY KIND Students show respect for a graduating classmate.

CARMEL HIGH SCHOOL

TFK spoke with Higgins’s mom, Barbara. “It just takes a little bit of kindness and compassion [to think] about someone else,” she says. “If everybody did that for a minute a day, the world would just be amazing." —By Ellen Nam

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