Marcia Meyer didn’t start out to create a movement, but she did. The founder of The Be Kind People Project has seen her program go national, and this year the local nonprofit is hoping a million kids will sign its Be Kind Pledge “to make schools a safe and positive place for everyone.”
“Being kind is not just something that happens,” Meyer explains. “It’s an intentional skill set that people have to think about, and they have to do something, and they have to practice.”
The goal of The Be Kind People Project is to build a generation of respectful, responsible, healthy and caring citizens and leaders.
Meyer, who lives in Paradise Valley and retired as a senior executive from PetSmart, says the project grew from a women’s group she formed in 2011 to honor teachers. From there, she became interested in creating quality youth development programs for ages 5-13.
“I quickly learned the challenges that both students and their teachers are facing and saw a gap in what was offered in quality character education and teacher recognition,” she says.
It all started with a Be Kind Pledge that urges kids (and adults) to be encouraging, supportive, honest, helpful, thankful, considerate, respectful and more. The message is conveyed in a variety of ways, including providing materials to teachers in classrooms and online.
The Be Kind Crew also visits schools and groups, both locally and occasionally nationally. The crews consist of hip-hop dancers who spread the message about kindness.
Meyer says the dance crews grab students’ attention from the get-go, and from there it’s easier to get the students to listen to the importance of being kind. The goal is to equip students “with a framework for decision-making and taking accountability for building respectful, interpersonal relationship skills, improving academic results and forming enduring values.”
Meyer recently talked to Raising Arizona Kids about her project and vision.
What do you see in children today that makes you think The Be Kind People Project is necessary? One needs only to be aware of the headlines and state of current affairs and pressures that students are facing to realize that they need help from multiple levels. [They need help to] develop personal skill sets that will help them form positive and healthy interpersonal relationships, the accountability that can help them make smart and responsible decisions, and the motivation to be the best they can be in their academics and school career.
Can you give us examples in which exposure to The Be Kind Crew helped students? The Be Kind Crew has been called into a wide variety of socio-economic conditions in schools to work with administration. The results vary widely. Here are a few examples: A Title I school in the metro Phoenix area went from mid-to-lower achievement to an A+ school because the teachers, students and parents adopted the skills of the Be Kind Pledge. The learning environment changed, students had more self confidence and commitment, teachers spent less time disciplining and overall achievement improved. This was seen in an academic improvement, as well as a [more than] 50 percent decrease in annual referrals to the office for behavior issues.
A school on a Native American reservation found that traditional “anti-bullying” techniques just simply didn’t work; kids almost mocked posters and words, and, in fact, didn’t understand them. When the Be Kind Crew introduced a culturally relevant and modern way to approach relationships, the response was almost immediate. For once, kids weren’t being told what not to do, but were given the foundation and skills for what to do. They were simply empowered to do the right thing. In that school, behavior referrals decreased by over 70 percent in less than three years, and the dropout rate improved significantly.
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How have you seen kindness demonstrated by children exposed to The Be Kind People Project? Every child exposed to the Be Kind Crew gets an opportunity to take the skills and immediately put them into action. The pay-it-forward philosophy is discussed, and materials are given to students to show gratitude to others. Schools report that literally hundreds of “pay-it-forward” cards are given to teachers, to administration, to janitors, to cafeteria workers, etc. Things like that can brighten an adult’s life.
Students have sent tens of thousands of messages of support to people they have never met who are undergoing crisis situations, all across the country. There is an effort at this moment to send gestures of support to the students in Parkland, Florida [where 17 people were killed by a gunman at a Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School]. Every September, first responders in neighborhood stations receive notes of thanks and support from local schools with materials supplied by the Be Kind People Project.
Perhaps one of the most touching things is to see the volunteer rate for help in classes for special ed students increasing. Students sense when other students need their help and demonstrate it in a very tangible way by being friends.
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What are your goals for this program? There’s still so much work to be done in Arizona! Today’s students are tomorrow’s adult citizens, leaders and parents. We want them to develop enduring skills and values that will help them — and help society — as they grow older. My absolute goal is to bring this program to every K-8 school in Arizona. We have the opportunity to lead the nation in proven, effective, innovative and relevant character education and youth development.
How can students/teachers/administrators get The Be Kind Project to their schools? The Be Kind People Project has been designated by the Arizona Department of Education as an approved supplier — one of very few — of character education. Any school, parent-teacher organization or business can contact us. In addition, we offer a free online program — The Be Kind Break — that any teacher or parent can use to link academics, health and character education. As a 501(c)(3) [nonprofit], any and all donations are appreciated so that we can continue to offer programs to those schools in greatest need.
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