It is the smallest acts that lead to making the biggest difference, according to a new kindness challenge at Rock Bridge High School.

At Rock Bridge, the program Bruins, Be Kind, challenges students each week to spread kindness. This week’s challenge is to start a conversation with someone different than you.

Students are encouraged to start a conversation by asking questions like: What did you do over the weekend? What electives are you in? What shows or movie recommendations could you give me? Read any good books lately?

Spreading kindness is becoming a priority in light of recent acts of school violence.

Lesley Thalhuber, the outreach counselor for Rock Bridge High School, started Bruins, Be Kind at the beginning of the school year last fall.

“Bringing this challenge to Rock Bridge meshed perfectly with my efforts as an outreach counselor,” Thalhuber said.

Thalhuber’s other initiatives in spreading kindness and mental health awareness include Children’s Grove, Rachel’s Challenge and HOPE Club. These three organizations helped inspire Thalhuber to create Bruins, Be Kind.

Thalhuber is a volunteer at Children’s Grove in Columbia, which raises awareness of the needs of kids in Boone County along with promoting public education on behavioral health. The organization was created after the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

Similar to Children’s Grove, Rachel’s Challenge was started after the Columbine High School shooting in Colorado in 1999. Rachel’s Challenge is focused on making schools safer and more connected places, where bullying and violence are replaced with kindness and respect.

Thalhuber uses both Children’s Grove and Rachel’s Challenge as outside resources to spread kindness within the halls of Rock Bridge High School.

“We need to include each other rather than reject each other, as rejection does a whole lot mentally,” Thalhuber said.

As a way for students to practice more positive behavior, Thalhuber began sponsoring HOPE Club at Rock Bridge High School in the fall of 2016.

This club provides mental health awareness and resources for suicide prevention while promoting a culture of kindness and healthy coping skills to improve the emotional health of all Rock Bridge High School students.

Members of this club also act as youth kindness ambassadors.

Student leader of the HOPE Club Kayla West also serves as a youth kindness ambassador for the Bruins, Be Kind challenge, where she helps organize events surrounding acts of kindness, mental health awareness and suicide prevention.

“The kindness challenge pushes students to think about their actions toward other students,” West said. “Having a smile on your face, telling someone to have a good day or even holding the door open for a student can go as far as saving a life because it is the small acts that really make a big difference.”

One of West’s favorite kindness challenges was this week’s challenge. She realized that she can find a connection to other classmates who she thought she could never find a common connection with.

“It's about giving people who you think you cannot be closest with a chance and developing new friendships,” West said.

Challenging students to these acts of kindness already have made an impact, according to Thalhuber.

“Teacher and students have really enjoyed these challenges,” Thalhuber said. “I have had teachers come up to me saying that these different challenges have made an impact in the way students treat each other in the classroom.”

Past kindness challenges have included wishing at least 10 people each day of the week to “have a great day” and to use talents and strengths to help others in the school community.

Similar programs like Bruins, Be Kind also are occurring at Hickman and Battle high schools.

All three of these high schools will be participating in the health and resource fair. Rock Bridge High School will be having their health and resource fair on Thursday, March 22. This fair will be held during Reality Week, which runs March 19 to 23. West along with other members of HOPE Club are organizing Reality Week. During the fair, students will be encouraged to sign up to become youth kindness ambassadors.

“I am really proud to be a part of a community that cares about out students,” Thalhuber said. “Allowing Columbia public schools to have this fair is being proactive regarding mental health.”

Supervising editor is Gary Garrison: news@columbiamissourian.com, 882-7884.

  • Staff Photographer for the Missourian and undergraduate student at the University of Missouri, studying journalism with an emphasis in photojournalism along with a minor in Spanish.

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