Melissa Loven, a Fridley resident, hopes this school year will be better for her son.
Soon to be a seventh-grader at Fridley Middle School, her son was bullied in fifth and sixth grade, she said.
“Kids (were) calling him names, teasing, pushed into lockers,” she said. “Lots of disrespect from kids. It’s not right.”
One way Loven is trying to make this school year better is joining a new group of parents called Cool2BKind. The group aims to spread kindness in Fridley Public Schools. Many parents involved have children who experienced bullying in the district, particularly at the middle school.
“We’re still working to get the word out with students to spread kindness, not necessarily focus on bullying, but more on the kindness and the positive side to kind of then put a cover on the bullying because kids will want to be kind,” said Heather Hansen, co-founder of Cool2BKind.
The idea to form a group with other parents came to Hansen after she posted on Facebook about her own son Colby’s experience.
Colby, who is starting high school, was tackled to the ground during gym class in eighth grade last May, resulting in a mild concussion. Hansen found out this was not the first time her son was tackled like this and was worried for this safety.
She received hundreds of comments of support and parents sharing stories about their own kids.
“I had no idea that even people I talk to frequently were in this kind of situation until I made that post and got their feedback and they shared their stories,” she said.
A few parents mentioned the idea of a group to spread kindness and share stories. From there, Cool2BKind was formed.
As part of the group, Loven wants to see changes made to impact the culture and environment of the middle school.
“I am hoping by speaking out as a group of parents who want to see and make changes, the School Board and principals will work with us to make the necessary changes,” Loven said.
Nikki Karnopp has a second-grader attending school in Fridley. She joined the group because she wants to help make improvements and focus on kindness in the middle school and the rest of the district.
“If we don’t step in and do something and become involved and ask our teachers and administrators what they need from us to help support them, it’s going to either stay the same or get worse,” Karnopp said.
Through Cool2BKind, Karnopp wants to set a good example for her son and the community about what it means to be kind.
“I want friends and my neighbors and my community to know that if their child or children are having bad experiences that we stand with them and we want to not only combat bullying and bad behavior, but be preventative about it,” Karnopp said.
Cool2BKind has already helped the school in making some changes, Hansen said.
The district has always had a means of reporting these incidents when they occur, said Jael McLemore, Fridley’s director of communications and community relations. Forms are available to students in the school offices and in classrooms.
While the paper form was a good start, Hansen said, the students all know where the forms are located, so if they see another student going to grab one in the classroom, the reporting process is no longer anonymous, which could discourage kids from reporting.
Now there is an online form available on the school website that Hansen described as “very, very user-friendly.” Students can report incidents anonymously online without drawing attention to themselves. The district has also added a phone hotline students can call.
“They’ll have an influx of kids reporting because the fear of retaliation from reporting and just grabbing the form is eliminated,” Hansen said. “We want this (bullying) to be reported so it can be resolved in a timely manner instead of escalating.”
McLemore said a lot of the ideas from Cool2BKind lined up with what the district was already doing or was in the process of implementing.
For instance, Cool2BKind wants to spread kindness starting in the middle school and branching to the rest of the district. The middle school implemented a “random acts of kindness” program last year for the fifth grade, and it’s planning to branch out to the rest of the school this year, Fridley Middle School Principal Amy Cochran said.
Through this program, students are rewarded for displaying acts of kindness.
“We would love to have the parent group facilitate some of the pieces of that,” Cochran said.
The middle school also has its Tiger GRIT program, referencing the school’s mascot. GRIT stands for Give respect, Responsibility, Integrity and Think first.
Tiger GRIT is the middle school’s version of PBIS, a nationwide program funded by the U.S. Department of Education that promotes social, emotional and behavioral support. PBIS stands for Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports.
There are posters around the school that show what GRIT looks and sounds like in different areas, such as hallways or the cafeteria.
If students are seen displaying Tiger GRIT behaviors, they receive “tiger tracks,” which are tickets they can use to win prizes for their good behavior.
Middle school Assistant Principal Christopheraaron Deanes said the school also has a program to emphasize empathy through restorative practices.
The programs gives license for students and staff to talk with each other in an empathetic way, Deanes said.
“It really builds social capital and community among our students,” he said. “It gives them the opportunity to be able to hear from one another from different backgrounds and the different cultures and backgrounds that each student individually comes from.”
McLemore said she’s glad to see parents getting involved in their children’s school lives, because students tend to respond better when parents are involved.
“Having an adult in their life who cares and has a visible presence in their daily school life, I think that means a lot,” she said.
Cool2BKind is working on getting its name out to the public and ensuring the community not only knows what it is, but also what it’s working toward.
To do this, the group has participated in the Fridley ‘49er Days parade and will host a 5K fun run in October.
Hansen said she felt awful her son was being bullied, but she hopes something good comes out of it.
“I told him, if anything good is going to come out of this, it’s going to help change the culture so kids that are in this situation have a better experience, come to a resolution,” Hansen said.