Lee High School EVAC students win national challenge

Lee High School EVAC students win national challenge
A student places a sticker of empathy on a story on the #YourStoryIsMine bulletin board at Lee High School.

In order to foster kinder and more empathic communities, the KIND Foundation and Making Caring Common, a project of Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, launched the KIND Schools Challenge. Dozens of middle- and high-school students across the country developed ideas to foster kindness and inclusivity in their school communities. Of those, 10 entries – from a 3D board game to a compliment challenge – were selected as finalists and given the funds to bring their ideas to life.

The winning project, #YourStoryIsMine, was submitted by Robert E. Lee High School students in Amy Donofrio’s leadership class, EVAC, which is CAVE spelled backwards to signify leading students out of a cave of hopelessness and ignorance into leadership. Billy Luper (grade 11), Chris Burgess (grade 11) and Nick Burgess (grade 9) created the project – which allowed classmates to share the issues they face – to help heal divides.

To bring it to life, they set up a bulletin board where they posted about different issues that other students might have faced, such as losing a sibling or homelessness. On the board they placed a box of Post-it notes, and peers were encouraged to post if they too had faced a particular issue.

According to Donofrio, the project had an unexpected effect. “Despite the animosity, the kids started being kind,” she said. “They realized they could relate to each other.”

The award, which was announced during EVAC’s last class of the year via Skype, meant a lot to a community that has historically made headlines for gang violence, and whose students face significant challenges at home.

In Donofrio’s 13-person class alone, all have been detained and questioned by police and all have felt pressured to provide for their families, 12 have had a close family member murdered and have had a parent or sibling in jail for significant time. Other challenges the students have faced include being shot at or seeing someone else shot.

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