Students promote kindness in wake of school shootings

POCATELLO — As students across the nation gear up to walk out of school in protest of congressional inaction on gun violence, seventh grader Eli Whiteside plans to stay inside and brainstorm ways to be nice.

“Protests are OK, but I’d like to do something that could help stop another school shooting,” said Whiteside, who attends Pocatello Community Charter School. “I’d like to put a little light in someone’s day.”

Hundreds of Idaho students are poised to participate in Wednesday’s 17-minute school walkout to promote gun control and honor the 17 lives taken in last month’s horrific school shooting in Parkland, Fla. PCCS students are engaged in a different movement, stemming from the social media hashtag #WhatsYour17.

Instead of a walkout, #WhatsYour17 invites kids to perform 17 acts of kindness and share them on social media throughout March.

“It’s a way better idea,” said PCCS principal Michael Mendive, who thinks part of #NationalSchoolWalkout has morphed into a political ploy for gun control. “We are not necessarily opposed to the March 14 walkout, but we are opposed to the school telling students what their political opinions should be.”

Mendive first saw #WhatsYour17 in a Facebook post shared by an out-of-state teacher whose students questioned the practicality of walkouts planned in the wake of the Parkland massacre.

“What a great conversation came out of it,” wrote teacher Marcey Raymond Kusper, who purportedly started the hashtag in February. “Smile at 17 people you normally wouldn’t smile at. Say a kind word to 17 people who might not have someone to speak to.”

Mendive encourages his students to focus on 17 “disaffected” people, or anyone who looks like they could use a friend. He broke the process down into three parts:

  1. Find someone to be nice to.
  2. Share the experience on social media, using photos, videos, written descriptions and the #WhatsYour17 hashtag.
  3. Challenge others to complete steps 1 and 2.

“I want this to spread like the ice-bucket challenge,” Mendive said, referring to a ubiquitous social media campaign featuring people dumping ice water on their heads to raise awareness about amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).

PCCS students can also participate in #NationalSchoolWalkout if they choose to, Mendive said, but he is not aware of any students planning on it.

“What we are doing gives kids a chance to do something meaningful for someone else,” Mendive said.

Whiteside and fellow seventh grader Alexa England said they’re excited for the event, but they hope resulting acts of kindness last longer than a month.

“I just want to make sure that I remember to do nice things all the time, not just on one day,” Whiteside said.

Check in with Idaho Education News Wednesday for full coverage of #NationalSchoolWalkout in Idaho schools.

Further reading: Click here for a broad look at how Idaho schools employ a range of school-safety efforts, including guns.

Devin Bodkin

Devin Bodkin

Devin was formerly a senior reporter and editor for Idaho Education News and now works for INL in communications.

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