Did you hear the news? Kids in Westport are so kind that we no longer need Kool to be Kind in our schools. Yes, that's right. While other towns are clamoring for this wonderful program developed by four Westport moms (with two PhDs in psychology and one masters in education among them), our school administration has decided to cut Kool to be Kind.
"Cut" isn't actually the right word, more like "eviscerate." They will keep a club named "Kool to be Kind," but they will remove its heart, soul and brain.
Guided by 50-plus parent volunteers, Staples students played an integral part in molding the program, in which they work with third-graders, modeling kind behavior and advising how to navigate rough patches with peers. The K2BK teens have taken ownership of the kindest club in town; they lead the lessons with the third graders (parents help train them but are no longer in the classroom). At times they have edited the language used, advising the adults, "That's not how kids talk." These teens know how to reach their mentees, who look up to these Staples kids -- even worship them. There are high-fives all around after a K2BK session and everyone leaves empowered.
What an amazing concept -- home-grown in Westport, where K2BK reaches 500 third-graders five times per year with this crucial message. And 99 percent of high school volunteers return the following year. These are Staples kids -- supposedly the type-A, self-centered, Yik-Yaking bunch. Each year, 120 of them volunteer to help teach empathy to 8-year-olds, and, by all accounts, have a blast doing it.
Citing "philosophical differences," but no specifics, the administration left us wondering how Westport Schools are opposed to K2BK's philosophy to teach kindness and empathy and empower teens to be leaders. It appears Westport aims to churn out followers.
The administration laid out their plan to align our school with "National School Climate Standards" and use only language consistent with the Westport Schools' social-skills program. The lingo suggested by teens might "confuse" the children. No original ideas to combat bullying, please. And no teens leading workshops. They will assist teachers with lessons from the social skills program.
Never mind that suggestions a teacher made to my son when he was teased came from the social skills curriculum and left his face burning red from embarrassment. A fifth-grader, he insisted on sharing this testimony at a school board meeting because he thinks K2BK is awesome and should stay as it is.
Many concerned young people and parents -- some have spent countless hours volunteering in the last four years -- came out (April 28) because they feel the same way. They were there because they have come home crying from school after being teased or have consoled their demoralized kids. They were there because they have felt transformed by K2BK or have seen their kids transformed. They were there to say: When it comes to spreading kindness, let's use multiplication, not division.