It’s cool to be kind this month at Manatee


Manatee Elementary students turn written compliments for others into chain links that will become holiday garland decor. Photo by Catherine Evans

Kindness counts this month at Manatee Elementary School.

The Viera school is launching a campaign to inspire its 850 students to be nicer to one another and to the community, with a goal of reducing instances of bullying and teasing, Manatee PTO president and campaign founder Nicki Hensley said.

“My goal was not to focus on the bullying,” said Hensley, who has a son in first grade and a daughter in fourth grade at Manatee. “I think that word is overused and we’ve kind of grown immune to it. So I really wanted to turn it on its head and focus on the positives. Because if we can be kinder, we can eliminate those things maybe not altogether but get kids and even adults thinking in a different way.”

The school’s kindness project kicked off with an exercise in which each student drew another student’s name and complimented that student, Henlsey said. Those compliments were written on strips of colored paper to create a paper chain that will be used as holiday decorations at the school and displayed the first week of December, she said.

Manatee also will place hundreds of wrapped boxes around the school, each box adorned with a kind word or phrase, Hensley said. Teachers and parent volunteers are preparing bulletin boards with a message that emphasizes kindness to others, complete with students’ first-hand written accounts of compassion.

Palm Bay teen Acacia Woodley, who launched the Tiny Girl, Big Dream Foundation in 2012 to help children spread kindness, also will visit the school. Woodley, 13, was born without a right hand and has only two fingers on her left hand. Her foundation hopes to end bullying through sales of Friendship Benches, colorful benches made of recycled plastic where children can sit if they’ve been bullied or had a bad day. Manatee recently bought one of the benches for its playground, Hensley said.

“She has an incredible story,” Hensley said.

The kindness project is an offshoot of Manatee’s annual holiday community outreach program, which assists local charitable organizations, Hensley said. This year, the school’s kindergarteners and first graders will raise contributions for the SPCA of North Brevard; second through fourth graders, assisted by AVET project, will make care packages for troops stationed overseas; and fifth and sixth graders will raise funds for Family Promise of Brevard, which helps homeless families with children.

“Last year, when we invited representatives from every organization to present them with what the kids contributed, we did it in a big assembly, and you saw mouths on the floor, you saw tears,” Hensley said. “The children really understood how much this meant to the community and they were part of something that big.”