Metro high school students inspire kindness - MetroFamily Magazine
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Metro high school students inspire kindness

by Erin Page

Last year metro teacher Brooke Fonzi introduced a unit on mental health to her high school students by asking them to respond to a single question: How has mental illness affected you? Using an online app, the students’ real-time, anonymous answers popped up on the classroom board for everyone to see.
Fonzi, who teaches psychology at Putnam City North High School, said the classroom was silent.

“I only had two out of 125+ students who answered ‘it hasn’t,'” said Fonzi. “I saw everything from personal struggles, hospitalizations, suicide attempts, rehab and parent neglect due to parents’ mental illness, etc. It was powerful.”

Fonzi hoped to relay two messages to her students: first, if you are struggling, you aren’t alone; and second, since you have no idea what’s going on in someone else’s life, treat others with grace, kindness and understanding.

Her students were impacted profoundly, realizing that if the majority of kids in their psychology classroom had had these experiences, nearly everyone they come in contact with likely has, too. Fonzi’s message of kindness sparked an idea.

A small group of students formed a psychology club and began to brainstorm ideas for a week of Pawsitivity (PC North’s mascot is the panther) to precede Thanksgiving week this year. The group wanted the entire school to gain the same realization of what others are dealing with and encourage them to respond with kindness.

“I had all students in the school answer that question on a notecard,” said Fonzi. “I went through and picked out the ones for the video, and then I turned it over to the kids. They had creative control and filmed and edited the entire thing by themselves. They’re amazing!”

Dress-up days this week highlight mental health awareness, eating disorder awareness and suicide prevention. The ultimate in kindness, Mr. Rogers, will be celebrated Thursday with students wearing cardigans, and more than 100 students purchased “Be Kind” shirts to be worn Friday.

Students are signing kindness pledges, filling out Pawsitivity notes for other students and writing letters of gratitude to teachers who have impacted their life.

“We wanted to bring positivity and gratitude to the school the week before Thanksgiving,” said Fonzi. “It has been so well received. We are hoping for a ripple effect of kindness and gratitude from this.”

Major kudos to Fonzi and PC North students for bringing awareness to and normalizing mental health issues and encouraging kindness. More to come in 2020 about this inspirational group of students!

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