McNABB — Anti-bullying programs are commonplace in many schools, but students at Putnam County Junior High School realized a need to move beyond bullying by creating a club with a foundation of respect, inclusivity and compassion.
At one point, Putnam County Junior High School had an anti-bullying club that was successful, but after a year, students wanted to move on to something more challenging and positive. One of the club’s activities had been participation in a 21-day kindness challenge. The impact of that inspired the creation of the Kindness Club, which is now in its second year.
“We now focus on making the school a more kind and understanding place by learning about and respecting all types of people,” Kris Sienza, math teacher and club sponsor, said.
The after-school club doesn’t exclude any students from membership, and meeting attendance is voluntary. They average about 25 students per weekly meeting, but have had up to 47 in attendance.
The group has worked with Illinois Valley Animal Rescue to assist with animal adoptions, continued their kindness challenges, created videos and posters in support of their mission, worked on multiple school projects, created a project where students could show appreciation for their teachers and the daily inspiration they provide, raised funds for St. Jude, hosted guest speakers; and plans to continue its members work in local communities.
“The club has had a huge impact on making kids stop and think about how they interact, and it’s brought a variety of social groups together,” Principal Mike Olson said.
While social media and American politics are often striving to create divisiveness, the Kindness Club is moving in the opposite direction.
“I think students really like talking about social situations and kindness, maybe contrary to popular belief. They enjoy getting to know others’ perspectives and situations, and I’ve seen several students take the lessons they’ve learned and apply them to their everyday lives in school,” Sienza said.
He added the frequency of social discussions has grown and said student comments are both thoughtful and insightful. Sienza has witnessed students voluntarily holding doors for others and helping them when needed; welcoming new students; respecting others’ views even when they disagree; and noticed a difference in many members of the club.
“If we can treat each other with kindness and respect, even when we disagree, and truly listen and try to understand despite differences, then the world would be a better place. Not everyone has to agree, but hopefully we can each try to understand where everyone is coming from. I think the world needs a lot more of that, and hopefully we can do our part in Putnam County to improve it,” he said.
Erin Brooker, the eighth-grade representative for the club, said it’s a great group to belong to because of its positivity and how it helps give her an awareness during those moments when she can show her kindness.
“It’s a great place to spread your ideas and feelings without fear of judgment. This club definitely has a positive effect on the school and helps remind students that even little acts of kindness make a big difference,” Brooker said.
The club also received assistance from the high school’s students through the construction of a “kindness bench.”
“The bench is there for students to sit on if they’re ever feeling down, so others can sit by them and show them true friendship. It’s a great symbol of the kindness and compassion here at PCJH,” Brooker said.
Brooker added she’s noticed the impact of the club through the behavior of her fellow classmates who are now more understanding and empathetic.
“They recognize when someone is feeling left out and take action. I’m very thankful this club exists and can’t wait to see what’s in store for us in the future,” Brooker said.
Sienza said while building the club from the ground up and the organization of the volunteer projects was difficult, it was worth the challenge.
“As I always tell the students, you don’t have to change the whole world, just do your small part with little acts of kindness. If we all do that, it will add up to a lot,” he said.