The story that started it all...
A life defining moment – the catalyst that changed my approach to the everyday – it was a call from a dear friend to tell me that her 12 year old daughter had taken her own life after being bullied relentlessly at school. I knew this little girl and the joy she brought to all who knew her. How could an innocent life end so tragically short?
While this shocking story was the catalyst to my own understanding of our nation’s bullying epidemic, in no way does this mark the beginning of the crisis. Suicide is a leading cause of death in US elementary school–aged children. In ages 10-14, we have seen an alarming increase of more than 150% in suicides since 1981, making it a leading cause of death for that age group. As smartphones gain traction in in the hands of our youngest demographic, and social media usage runs rampant, bullying has begun to morph into a creature the likes of which we have never seen, and perhaps are wildly unprepared for. With two young girls of my own, I knew I had to help – but how?
With a new outlook and determination to change the narrative, I put pen to paper and wrote the first version of The Kindness Campaign (TKC) curriculum, a reflective writing journal titled “I’m Enough.” The journal was centered around the adventures of Enoughie Buddy “E,” a sweet character developed to remind learners that they are Enough just the way they are. E learns through adventures that are familiar to early learners of all backgrounds – E helps up a teammate who has fallen in gym class, learns to work in a group for a class presentation and stands up for a student who is bullied in the cafeteria.
My daughters played an instrumental role in bringing our program to life. I would run writing prompts and illustrations by them for feedback, incorporate their suggestions for making the curriculum more interactive and ask them to share their own experiences working through the journals with students new to the program. The power of learning from peers is so instrumental at a young age, and I am forever grateful to my girls for their bravery and in sharing their experiences with the journal so that others might learn from them.
I made my first hire for the program, Nina Gilkerson, The Kindness Campaign’s COO, February 2016 to launch our pilot. “I’m Enough” journals were piloted in 5 schools (spanning PreK through 2nd Grade) during the 2015/16 school year in addition to The SAFE Alliance’s 2016 summer camp program. Demand for TKC curriculum became clear as word of mouth spread, and we quickly realized that a bilingual SEL program available to our youngest learners (PreK3), did not yet exist.
Armed with feedback from teachers, counselors, principals, and students from our pilot year, we expanded TKC’s curriculum offering with the help of 25-year teaching veteran, Lori Hobbie. By the 2016/17 school year, our program grew to reach 50 schools, and we couldn’t be prouder to share that TKC now has a presence in all 82 elementary schools in Austin ISD! We have big plans on the horizon to expand the reach of our life-saving curriculum nationally and one day (soon) internationally.
Thank you for joining us on our mission to change the narrative.
One Heart At A Time,