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GIVING BACK: School program designed to instill student empathy

January 19, 2018
By GRIFFIN KELLY - Staff Writer ( , Lake Placid News

LAKE PLACID - There's an old expression about walking a mile in someone else's shoes. It's supposed to teach empathy and compassion.

That's why the Lake Placid Connections for Change has a adopted a pair of sneakers similar to Converse All-Stars as the logo for its program, which seeks to create a positive environment for students in the Lake Placid middle and high schools.

Students and teachers were inspired to make their own empathy-focused program after seeing a presentation from Tom Bull, a teacher and program organizer in the Peru Central School District.

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Bull makes it his mission to create a positive educational environment for all students.

LPMS English teacher and LPCC adviser Kristin Tice said Bull had plenty of great ideas that create a positive and inclusive environment for all students.

"'You can't get rid of bullying,'" Tice said, quoting Bull, "'but you can make it a better place for all of the kids to be everyday.'"

"I've been the kid that has been made fun of for things that you can't necessarily change about yourself," she said later. "You know I've been the kid to stick up for a kid who's getting bullied, so I can see it from all perspectives, and that's a big part of why I am an adviser for this group."

The LPCC is currently raising funds on for an "I Am" mural, inspirational poster throughout the school and team building activities for all students. The fundraising campaign, which will be open until Feb. 15, has a $1,000 goal.

The mural will be a platform for students to voice who they are without judgment.

"I am different," "I am weird" and "I am exciting" were just a few examples of what students could write on the mural.

"It's where all the kids in our middle school can add their own adjective describing who they are," Tice said. "It's OK to be outside the cookie cutter or what everyone expects you to be like. The whole point of the mural is to show that all of those things are OK."

Another aspect the funding would go toward is inspirational posters around the school, adding to the "look-up" posters already in place. The look-up posters are hung from the ceiling with positive quotes written on them, so students who might not be having the best day have a reason to keep their heads up.

"When you're walking down the hall," Tice said, "it's literally a sign hanging from the ceiling that just says something positive or has an inspirational message for the student to read."

Tice continued, saying the posters aren't fluff; they really do impact the students.

"I've had a ton of kids already say it's just something - on their worst day - it's something that made them, you know, think about it and be like, 'OK it's not as bad as I think.'"

Tice brought up the point that despite Lake Placid being an attractive town, not everyone has it well off financially.

"When kids sometimes wear clothes that aren't seen as "the cool" clothes, they do get made fun of, but we have a pretty good school environment," she said. "I don't want to say it doesn't happen, but it's not as frequent where kids are made fun of because of their disadvantages. There definitely is a problem. A lot of people think, 'Lake Placid, everyone has money here,' and that's not the case."

As a former student and now an educator in the public school system, Tice said bullying still exists, but it's done differently. Where it used to be physical abuse and name calling among the lockers in school hallways, much harassment is now done behind computer and phone screens.

"Every kid has a cellphone," she said. "Facebook and Twitter and Instagram - these are the things kids use now. That's one of the issues. A lot of times kids do it when teachers aren't looking or when they sneak out their phones - and because they're so small - you can hide it anywhere. That's where a lot of the bullying is happening. It's more online than anything."

The LPCC isn't solely about picking people up when they're down but also encouraging those who are helpful students to continue to be a positive aspect of the middle and high schools.

If Tice or anyone else from the LPCC notices a student sticking up for others, they write them a thank-you card with some candy attached.

Tice said since LPCC started in early 2017, it has been successful. The numbers continue to grow currently 15 to 20 regular members.

Tice said she also has at least two students approach her each month, asking if they can still join the program.

"Most of our eighth graders now have really stepped up and been leaders in this group," she said. "They show up to as many meetings as they can, and they make these ideas happen."

As a person who sees how students interact with each other every day, Tice believes the LPCC is a great way to instill understanding and empathy.

"I'm the first one that when I see something," Tice said, "I definitely call the kid over, and I make them see, 'What if it was you that was being treated like this,' because a lot of times kids don't think about that. I'm starting to see a lot of kids stand up for their peers rather than just letting things happen."



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