Lifting spirts and spreading kindness

Nic Antaya/The Herald
Northeast Dubois High School juniors Leah Kerstiens, left, Jara Braunecker, Megan Senninger and Adrienne Betz founded the Friends of NDHS Instagram account and shared pictures of their classmates with a positive caption for each individual. They were anonymous until recently and will be handing off the responsibility of managing the social media account to four sophomores to continue spreading positivity.

By MARTHA RASCHE
Special To The Herald

DUBOIS — When four Northeast Dubois High School sophomores took an idea for sharing kindness via social media to school social worker Paige Mundy last school year, she didn’t think, “Sharing kindness; what could possibly go wrong with that?”

Instead, she thought about how often social media is used to bully, shame or embarrass others, and she cringed.

“I was scared,” Mundy acknowledged months later, after “Friends of NDHS” had proven its success.

The four girls — now juniors: Adrienne Betz, Jara Braunecker, Leah Kerstiens and Megan Senninger — proposed creating an Instagram page on which they would single out and praise fellow Jeeps. Other students would be invited to like the posts and add their own compliments.

The idea stemmed from a mashup of hearing a presentation by an anti-bullying speaker as freshmen and then, as sophomores, learning about Rachel’s Challenge — a nationwide organization that encourages students to carry out a chain reaction of kindness and compassion.

After determining some ground rules, including how to keep the Instagram posts somewhat uniform, the girls behind the Friends of NDHS put the spotlight on more than 200 individual students during the 2017-18 school year.

“We thought (it would be) a way to boost the confidence around here,” Jara said.

In a nutshell, here is the structure the girls and Mundy agreed on:

The group is closed, limiting access to NDHS students and staff and those allowed in by an administrator.

Only students with Facebook accounts are featured, so as not to put students on social media who aren’t already there. By the time last school year ended, all of the students with Facebook accounts had been recognized, keeping the program as inclusive as possible.

The girls share the workload, posting twice each weekday and once a day on weekends.

The girls making the posts remain anonymous until the end of the school year.

Anonymity was important, Adrienne explained, so the girls could focus on their fellow students “out of the good of your heart,” and not get caught up in writing to be thanked.

The girls knew enough about a lot of the students to make unique, genuine posts. But for students they didn’t know that well, they started innocuous conversations with the individuals to learn more.

“Sometimes I would need to try to talk to them throughout the day or try to make some kind of contact to get to know them a little more,” Megan said. The girls think the conversations remained more authentic since the students didn’t know they were talking with a Friends blogger.

Each post began with three or four sentences about something nice about the person, followed by tagging the person and nominating him or her “to keep the kindness going. Do something kind in the next 24 hours to create a chain reaction. Like and comment something nice to keep the kindness going.”

A typical post got more than 60 likes and multiple comments.

Colby Stafford, now a junior, said being in the limelight “made me feel good and better about myself. ... It felt good to be noticed.” Favorite comments from others included that he is “super funny” and “glad to call you one of my best friends.”

Ayane Mundy, also a junior, was “shocked” by the comments her post got. “You have so much spunk and beauty! You’re talented beyond belief” was part of a favorite.

The feeling she got from the post “made me want to try harder to be nicer to people so others could have that feeling too,” she said. As her act of kindness in the 24 hours afterward, she held doors open for people and gave more compliments.

Junior Olivia Schroering said her post made her feel “super special.” For the rest of the school year, if she had a bad day or needed a pick-me-up, she would look back at the post and the feedback. One of her favorite comments came from Emma Emmons, a classmate who called her “a great leader” and wrote “I look up to you.”

Emma made a point to write on every single post during the school year. Like the bloggers, she didn’t know all of the individuals featured so she had to talk with them before chiming in on the page. “I talked to people I didn’t think I would have normally,” she said. “I usually would make small talk, even something as little as ‘Hi’ or ‘How was your day?’ ... Overall, it changed my point of view of people.”

The experience did that for the bloggers, too.

“Doing this, it made you look at everyone differently, and (see that) there is good in everyone. That was a big hit for me,” Adrienne said.

“I’ve opened up a little more. I talk to more people,” Jara said.

Megan said the process made her think more of students who are isolated and how their days could be brightened by others reaching out in conversation or including them in an activity.

“One kind word can brighten someone’s day,” Leah agreed, saying she felt good “seeing how such a little thing can go a long way.”

The girls and social worker Mundy concur that the Friends of NDHS had the hoped-for results of lifting spirits at the school and spreading kindness.

School culture has noticeably changed, Leah said. “A lot more kids are happier, and there’s not as much bullying going around.”

“Some of the staff made comments that even kids coming through the line in the cafeteria were more polite,” Mundy added. The staff “could kind of make that connection to around the time that their posts (of those students) were made that they saw changes in personalities as far as how they treated other people and responded to different scenarios.”

Sometime soon the girls will select new leaders to run the Instagram page for the current school year. Those students will be sophomores, who form a natural bridge between freshmen and upperclassmen. Adrienne, Jara, Leah and Megan will train their successors and stay available to offer guidance.

As the fall progresses, the girls have their eyes on potential successors.

The successors, who will remain anonymous, will be natural leaders, Adrienne said.

Who are social and know a lot of the student body, Leah said.

They will be able to manage their time, added Megan, as “you need to keep up with the posts” each day despite other things that might come up.

Most of all, Jara said, they will be respectful, responsible and kind.

Youth Mental Health First Aid

The Dubois County Public Health Partnership has scheduled Youth Mental Health First Aid training in addition to its Mental Health First Aid offerings.

Youth Mental Health First Aid will take place from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 1. It is designed to teach parents, family members, caregivers, teachers, school staff, peers, neighbors, health and human services workers and other caring citizens how to help adolescents (those ages 12 to 18) experiencing mental health or addictions challenges or are in crisis.

One-day sessions focused on adults are scheduled for 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Nov. 14 and April 10. Two-day sessions are scheduled for 8 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. Feb. 20 and 21; to receive credit for the course, one must attend both sessions.

The classes are held in the Memorial Hospital Medical Arts Conference Room, at 721 W. 13th St., Jasper.

The cost of the eight-hour training is $35 per person. The money is reinvested in the program to pay for the manuals participants receive, other supplies and instructor training.

To register, visit www.MentalHealthFirstAid.org and follow the link to the registration box. For more information, email mhfa.duboiscounty@gmail.com or call Dubois County Health Department Administrative Director Donna Oeding at 812-481-7050. 

 

Martha Rasche is a member of the Dubois County Public Health Partnership Mental Health Committee and the local affiliate of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. With funding from the health partnership, she writes about topics related to mental health. Read her blogs at TheseAreOurStories.com. Email her at mtrasche@twc.com.

 




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