Kevin Watt seems to have it all. He’s a football player and wrestler. He’s intelligent, articulate, popular and respected.
But in elementary school in Westport, he says, he was bullied.
“It was the classic ‘give me your lunch money’ from kids a year older,” he recalls. He tried to fight back, but that made matters worse.
Finally, he told his mother. “The school handled it poorly,” Kevin says. “They treated me like an equal partner in it. But I was the victim. I hadn’t had lunch in 2 months!”
Last year, as a sophomore, Kevin saw someone at Staples High School in a “Kool 2B Kind” t-shirt. He asked a couple of questions, and after an interview was accepted into the club.
K2BK is a partnership between Staples students and 3rd grade classes. Together, they work to prevent “unkind behavior” (the preferred term to “bullying,” which implies hostility that can’t change). Small groups of teenagers go into 1 classroom 5 times a year. Using skits and guided discussions, the Stapleites provide ideas and strategies to help youngsters deal with difficult situations.
“I do this because I don’t want other kids to go through what I did,” Kevin explains.
Part of K2BK’s appeal to Kevin — and one reason it is so successful — is that it draws students from many different Staples groups. “There are sports girls and Players — all walks of life,” he says. “So the 3rd graders hear lots of different personalities and points of view.”
Jane Levy is a sophomore volleyball and softball athlete. She plays guitar, sings, writes for Inklings and is a teen trainer for the Anti-Defamation League.
She joined K2BK at the end of freshman year. Now she returns to her old elementary school — Green’s Farms — and loves her work. “It’s so worth it,” Jane says. “They just wrote the sweetest letters about being kind. We wrote back. And whenever we walk in the room, they’re so excited to see us.”
Middle school was “not the most kind experience,” Jane says. She appreciates the opportunity to show 3rd graders how much impact a simple smile or wave can have on others.
A recent discussion involved a child who was excluded at recess. One girl suggested telling the child, “Don’t worry, I’m still your friend.” Jane says, “They really are thinking about things. And now they’ve got strategies to help them cope.”
The skits are very realistic. K2BK senior Sebo Hood pretended to walk in late to a 3rd grade session. Jane — following her training — said, “I’m sorry, Sebo, you have to leave. We’ve already started.”
The children reacted immediately. “No, it’s okay!” they said. “You can sit here!”
That led to another great discussion, Jane said.
The 3rd graders are not the only ones who have learned to think about “unkind behavior.”
“A lot of us are not too kind ourselves,” Kevin says about his high school friends. “And that includes me. I did a lot of self-reflecting during our training sessions.”
At Staples, he now tries to stand up when he sees exclusionary behavior. He’s tried to involve outsiders in lunch conversations.
“Everyone’s been there,” Kevin says. “When someone notices you, and tries to include you, that can make your day.”