816 North

Award recognizes kindness that’s built into the fabric of St. Therese School

Every Wednesday at St. Therese School in Kansas City, North, kids are clamoring for lemonade.

Student council members sell the special drink to raise money — not for new sports equipment or anything else for themselves, but to give to charity. It is a small taste of the dozens of service initiatives that helped the school win this year’s Rita Blitt Kindest School award. The school is set to receive the honor Friday at Synergy Services’ 24th annual Kindest Kansas Citian Celebration.

Xavier Schmidt, the 14-year-old student council president, said the lemonade fund-raiser is a part of a new project called Circle of Hope. The effort teaches fifth- through eighth-graders about a different charity each month. At the end of the year, students will vote on one of them to receive all the money.

“It teaches everyone to have a sense of donating, that they can actually make a difference,” Xavier said.

Each grade at the school already focuses on a service project, and the range covers a variety of charities and activities. Students write cards to shut-ins and nursing home residents. They collect cans and put together food bags for Harvesters and the church’s food pantry. They adopt families at Christmas and create welcome bags for youth shelters.

Service and kindness drawn from faith is such a huge part of the school’s educational focus it is written into its motto: “May we be the real presence of Christ in every ‘Little Way.’ ”

Principal Carol Lenz said the “Little Way” is a nod to the school’s namesake, St. Therese, who believed that while people might not all be able to do great things, they can all do little things with great love. “That’s really a part of who we are, that all those little things are so important to us,” Lenz said.

Parent Cheryl Givens wrote the nomination for the award. After looking back through school newsletters and information from parent meetings, she came up with 11 pages of activities and projects the school has used to help students become more kind.

Givens, who has had three children in the school, said she has always been most impressed by the atmosphere of kindness towards each other that the students are encouraged to embrace. “They work extremely hard to make everyone in the school kind within the school. To me that’s a big part of being the kindest school in Kansas City. It’s not only reaching out to the community, but also how they treat each others within the school,” Givens said.

The school has an active anti-bullying program. It starts in kindergarten, when children learn to choose their words in order to foster a climate of respect and tolerance. In addition to having students and teachers commit to watching out and helping prevent meanness, the school also has mandatory training for parents. “We came up with that idea, just because we knew it was the right thing to do,” Lenz said.

The kindness award was a huge surprise for kids and teachers at St. Therese. Givens didn’t tell the school she was submitting the nomination. Even though sixth graders already participate in Synergy’s Kindest Kansas Citian awards by writing nomination letters, the school administration did not even know the organization offered a kindness award for schools until they won it.

“We were very humbled and appreciative,” Lenz said. “It was kind of like a confirmation that we’re doing something right.”