Kindness in the air

Teachers and staff from Bellevue Public Schools spell out #BEKIND on the athletic field at Bellevue East High School for a drone photo last week. Metro area school and city leaders are embracing the Be Kind theme.

Move over, meanies.

There’s a campaign underway to spread kindness across metro Omaha.

When kids head back to school this week and next, they’re likely to find the “Be Kind” message turning up all over: on social media, teachers’ T-shirts, school banners and notepads.

School board members in metro area districts have begun adopting resolutions embracing the #BeKind theme and declaring Aug. 24 #BeKind Day.

This week the Bellevue and Omaha school boards adopted resolutions. Catholic schools are embracing the theme, too.

Districts are putting their own spin on the theme.

The Millard Public Schools Foundation, for instance, put the message on a billboard along Industrial Road.

In Bellevue Public Schools, the teachers and staff of the district gathered on the Bellevue East High football field Tuesday and spelled out #BeKind while a drone flew overhead capturing photos and video.

Cindy Gress, a teacher at Bellevue’s Lewis & Clark Middle School, participated in the giant spelling event and backs the effort.

Kindness matters “in all circumstances,” even to the bullies, Gress said.

“I want every student to know you are smart, you are beautiful, you are loved,” she said.

The campaign builds on the efforts of Ralston Superintendent Mark Adler and his wife, Joni, who have used the Be Kind theme to emphasize the importance of kindness since losing their son, Reid, to suicide in 2016.

Mark Adler said Wednesday that the campaign sprang out of his conversations with Millard Superintendent Jim Sutfin.

Adler said the campaign is “grass roots,” with officials in each district deciding whether and how to participate.

The campaign, he said, has been growing “like wildfire.”

“We’re going to try to help people think about how they treat each other in their interactions, and that’s really what it’s all about,” he said.

Mayor Jean Stothert will proclaim Aug. 24 #BeKind Day in Omaha.

She said Wednesday that she got involved after hearing about the movement from Adler and Sutfin, who serve on her superintendent advisory group.

Stothert said the city through its various departments can help spread the Be Kind message to help combat mean comments online and elsewhere.

“I experience it everyday on my social media,” she said. “I get bullied.”

It’s no coincidence that Aug. 24 happens to be the opening night of the high school football season. Adler said he expects that, with stadiums full of fans, schools will hold #BeKind activities in conjunction.

Ralston students are having a big poster made, he said.

“They’re going to try to connect with opposing fans and sign the #BeKind sign and have that something that travels with them when they go places,” he said. “So just little things like that, and all kinds of different activities.”

He’s excited to see what other ideas people come up with.

The connection with Reid is gratifying for Adler and his wife.

“But quite honestly,” Adler said, “it’s about how we treat people all the time. And so I want that to be the focus more than anything else.”

Sutfin said churches and businesses are invited to join in.

He said he visited a school district in Nashville last year that had started a BE NICE campaign.

“It was amazing,” he said. “We came back to Omaha ready to start on that but decided to ask the Adlers if we could also use their #BeKind slogan because it did not make sense to have BE NICE and BeKind in the same area.”

Sutfin said the great part about #BeKind is it means something different to every district.

He said “#BeKind is about being intentional with your words and actions. Kindness costs very little and pays huge dividends.”

The Papillion La Vista Community Schools put their own spin on the theme: Be Known for Kindness.

A video for all staff includes a cameo from Miss USA Sarah Rose Summers, a 2013 Papillion-La Vista South High graduate, endorsing the theme.

Every student and staff member will receive a pad of sticky notes, and all will be encouraged to write positive messages on sticky notes and post them on students’ lockers or other places.

joe.dejka@owh.com, 402-444-1077

Joe covers education for The World-Herald, focusing on pre-kindergarten through high school. Phone: 402-444-1077.

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