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Kindness Campaign helps Kaneland make progress on bullying

SUGAR GROVE – The bright green symbol for the Kindness Campaign was prominent at Monday night’s Kaneland School District 302 Board meeting.

Most board members were sporting pins displaying the logo reading “Be Nice, Be Happy,” with a smiling face. Board member Tony Valente wore one of the group’s green T-shirts.

It’s been a little more than a year since angry community members packed a board meeting and lashed out at district officials, saying they weren’t doing enough to combat bullying.

On Monday, there was praise for the work done by a task force on the subject, with a nod to the Kindness Campaign for helping to change a culture, though many stressed the work is only beginning.

Discussion about the Vision 2014 update on bullying prevention lasted more than an hour Monday at Harter Middle School.

Officials pointed out the policies the district has in place. Some are shared by schools throughout the district, and some are specific to elementary, middle or high schools. For instance, they said, all buildings are focused on following a 2011 signature effort put together by the DuPage County Regional Office of Education and that county’s State’s Attorney’s Office, but some programs were tailored to schools or specific grades.

A great deal of the conversation centered around the task force and the Kindness Campaign. Diane McFarlin, assistant principal at Kaneland High School, praised the task force for helping to create “critical conversations” that have helped lead to improvements. McFarlin said past policies needed to be tweaked, as they weren’t effective enough. She said she’s learned that “anything we put into place should be student-empowered.”

She said feedback was sought and data collected. For instance, last year’s freshman class “said we missed the mark.”

She said past policies were aimed at anti-bullying measures, but the idea now is to be more proactive to attempt to create a change in climate.

She introduced Leigh Ann Reusche of the Kindness Campaign, who was on the task force. Reusche said the Kindness Campaign took its message to the community and learned the depth of the bullying problem in the district.

She said the Kindness Campaign has focused on encouraging all to be kind, but still, she said members would be approached at events by those with children attending schools in the district who brought up bullying.

“We don’t talk about bullying,” Reusche said. “We always have people [approach members] about it. … They’re still stressed about it. It’s still going on, and it’s not going to stop.” But, she said, being kind does make a difference.

Valente lauded the work that has been done.

“It chokes me up, to be honest,” he said. “You guys have moved the community.”

However, Valente and board member Teresa Witt stressed there must be consequences for those who commit serious violations of the policy. Valente said he wants to see some sort of progressive punishment in place, recalling the complaints from the past and pointing out “that’s what brought us here.”

Witt said she felt that “sometimes the disciplinary stuff is a little weak” and that youths should know there are behavior expectations, “and if you don’t behave in this manner, there will be consequences.”

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