Column: Join the kindness challenge

Published 12:00 am Thursday, February 8, 2018

North Rowan Middle School

SPENCER — Meet Jonathan Siebert, a young man diagnosed with Apert syndrome — a genetic disorder characterized by the premature fusion of certain skull bones.

This early fusion prevents the skull from growing normally and affects the shape of the head and face.

Apert syndrome is similar to the medical condition that the character Auggie Pullman in R.J. Palacio’s novel “Wonder” has.

Like Auggie, Jonathan has faced the real-life challenges of being bullied and ostracized. He ate lunch by himself in his school cafeteria. He did not understand why others treated him cruelly.

But much the same as Auggie, Jonathan had the strong support of his family and a few friends who encouraged him and helped him overcome his challenges.

At North Rowan Middle School, Angelia Fleming’s sixth-grade AIG class had the opportunity to meet Jonathan through a face-to-face online Zoom conference. The students got to hear his story and ask him questions.

Jonathan is 21 years old and lives in Houston. Thanks to Rowan-Salisbury Schools’ technology, we were able to interact personally with him and share ideas about how to spread kindness throughout our community and world.

Jonathan has had 27 surgeries. His parents have been his biggest support. He is currently enrolled in college, teaches Zumba and is a counselor at the YMCA.

Jonathan is a huge Disney fan. He has been to Disney parks numerous times and hopes to work there in the future. After meeting with Jonathan, we hope that we get to see him one day at Disney World or join in on one of his Zumba classes.

Jonathan’s greatest hope is to speak with students around the world and to share his story. He wants to encourage others to never give up, to keep strong and positive — and most important, to always have hope.

Jonathan inspired us all with his words. We are his first North Carolina class.

We invited Jonathan to join our Kindness Challenge. Our quest for acceptance and empathy began when our class noticed unjust treatment in our schools, our communities and our world. We had to do something about it; we decided to make a stand.

We wanted to create a better future for everyone. We started brainstorming ideas on ways to stop this growing problem — and from that, our Kindness Challenge was born.

Ideas started flowing like a rushing waterfall, and we soon put them into action. We dashed to the classroom with adrenaline racing through our bodies.

Once we reached the room, we grabbed sticky notes and started writing down encouraging messages to lift people’s spirits. Once we had about 80 notes, we ran around the school giving them to all the teachers, staff members and administrators. This led us to make more sticky notes to place on the sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade lockers.

We got our exercise those couple of days. We immediately saw a positive change in our school.

Then we asked ourselves, “Why should the school walls restrict our challenge? Let’s go beyond the boundaries.”

We went to North Rowan Elementary School; we waited outside and passed out sticky notes and hugs as students got off the buses and out of cars. Next, we went inside and read to the kids and talked to them about kindness. We all felt so good because it made them so happy.

We still wanted our Kindness Challenge to grow, so we made trips to North Rowan High School to pass out “You’ve been caught being kind” cards, so that the high school students could start spreading charitable acts throughout their school. The day before exams, started we passed out good-luck buttons that we had made, gave out candy and notes, and gave them encouragement.

To expand the Kindness Challenge throughout our school district, we created a Schoology group inviting others to join us and share ideas. Schoology is a learning management system used by our district to enhance communication and learning.

We posted movies created by us to encourage kindness. We have asked other student groups to create movies sharing their activities. Just think how kindness could spread like wildfire if we all join together.

Just like Jonathan Siebert, we want to share our story. We would like to invite everyone to join our Kindness Challenge. Together, we can make a difference.

For more information, contact Angelia Fleming’s sixth-grade AIG class at North Rowan Middle School, 704-639-3018.