HBW Students Building a Culture of Caring and Kindness

By Mr. David Galbierczyk, HBW Principal – Carnegie House


The Verona community has long been known to pull together and support one another during times of need. H.B. Whitehorne Middle School students have embodied the spirit of its community by identifying ways to both look out for one another as well as those outside of the walls of our school who could use some help. During the 2017-18 school year, HBW students in the newly formed Kind Club and Peer Leadership Club, along with the long standing D.R.E.A.M. Team Club, have made powerful contributions that are making their corner of the world a much better place.

Dream Team

The Dream (Daring to Reach out to Each other And Make a difference) Team is a community service-based club sponsored by the Verona Municipal Alliance Committee (VMAC). Student members of the Dream Team are committed to making a positive impact within and beyond their community. Led by advisors Mrs. Debbie Marsano and Mrs. Mary Anne Halbert, already this school year, the Dream Team has raised drug and alcohol awareness at HBW through the Red Ribbon Week initiative. Dream Teamers sent 275 pounds of leftover Halloween candy and sent dozens of holiday cards to American troops serving overseas. It supported the VHS Toy Drive as the holidays approached and raised both money and awareness in support of the fight against juvenile diabetes. Students join Dream Team because they are committed to promoting health, wellness, and positive decisions both within and beyond the walls of HBW.

October 19, 2017

October 19, 2017 was one of the most moving days in recent memory at HBW. All of the female students in the school viewed a powerful documentary created by Lauren Paul and Molly Thompson of the Kind Campaign. Mrs. McNeal then surprised everyone in the audience when Lauren and Molly themselves appeared on the stage of the HBW auditorium. For the next hour, Lauren and Molly led a powerful and moving presentation to the school’s female students about the harmful effects of bullying. By the end of the presentation, many of the girls in the audience had written apology notes and messages of kindness to one another. Meanwhile, in the HBW Gym, the HBW Boys were treated to a moving presentation by HBW alumnus and internationally-recognized motivational speaker Scott Chesney. Scott spoke of the meaning of brotherhood. He boys with strategies to interact with students outside their existing friend group, and challenged students to try to do something positive for 21 consecutive days.

Many students and staff members were so moved by the day’s messages that they vowed that the unity that existed on that day would never leave the hallways of HBW. Before Lauren, Molly, and Scott had even walked out of the HBW Auditorium that day, plans were taking root to form a Kind Club at HBW. Within short time, the Kind Club, led by three HBW teachers, was formed and has already made a major impact on daily life at HBW.

Peer Leadership

While the VMAC-sponsored Dream Team has been a staple of HBW for years, many HBW students have been inspired to further the work of the Dream Team by doing and giving back more. As such, the 2017-18 school year marked the first installation of the HBW Peer Leadership club. Also supported by VMAC, Peer Leadership is an exciting club where students discuss and develop ways to help others. Advisors Ms. Stefanie Lijoi and Mrs. Mirja Paula called on faculty members to identify those students in the upper middle school grades most capable of leading by example in support of the district’s core values. Once invited to join the Peer Leadership club, students establish goals for making a positive difference in the lives of other students at HBW. The inaugural group of HBW Peer Leaders quickly decided that they wanted to provide support to our 5th grade students as they transition from the comfort of their cozy elementary school to the big school on the Avenue.

Peer Leaders have also committed themselves to making small but powerful statements in the building to help instill a sense of safety and belonging for all students. They have created posters that now adorn the walls in our hallways that remind all students that they are important. Peer Leaders also gather inside the lobby of HBW before school and welcome all students as they enter school by greeting them with a friendly, “Good morning” and wishing them a great day. Peer Leaders believe that making small but personal connections with individual students can go a long way in making students who might be struggling feel safe and supported.

Most recently, our Peer Leaders have taught lessons to our 5th grade students in their Advisory class about decision-making and identifying ways to make HBW a safe place where all students feel valued. The group is in the process of expanding its Advisory class instruction. Peer Leaders have also facilitated “Mix it Up Lunch,” where students engage in conversations and play board games with students with whom they do not typically sit with during their lunch period. Peer Leaders are hopeful that their interactions with students will help cultivate an even stronger and healthier school culture at HBW.

Kind Club

Students in HBW’s newest club, the Kind Club, meet regularly and engage in dialogue regarding respect, kindness, and reasons why people behave the way they do. Club members learn a great deal about themselves and their peers by engaging in open, honest, and often personal dialogue. Kind Club members recently had lunch with author Erin Entrada Kelly, who found out several days after her visit to HBW that she had been honored with the prestigious Newbery Award. Ms. Kelly shared that her experiences of being bullied and hiding from her classmates in the library during lunch when she was in school inspired her first novel and, more importantly, the person she strives NOT to be. Ms. Kelly praised the Kind Club members for their commitment to making a difference by spreading kindness.

The Kind Club has also made a visible mark on our building. HBW’s lobby now features a new “Kind Wall” that is filled with notes of kindness written by students and staff to one another. So many kind notes have been written that we have had to open a second wall – and that wall is now nearly full! HBW students have told me that receiving a kind note made them so happy because they did not realize how important they were to someone else and, in turn, they were motivated to wrote a kind note to others so that they could have the same feeling.

“Kind Club has opened my eyes to better understand others’ perspectives and not try to change others’ personalities,” 7th grade student Jackie Lawless said. She went on to say, “During a Kind Club meeting, I heard the quote, ‘Be kind because you never know how much the person next to you is suffering.’ I think this is really important for people to think this way.”

Kind Club members have plans to paint several student bathrooms and other areas of our building with positive messages to serve as a reminder that all of us are special and important. As Jackie told me, “We just want to make an impact on the school. We want to make a difference.”

Ms. McNeal and I are so proud that so many of our students want to make a positive difference in the lives of others! I cannot wait to see how many more connections our Dream Teamers, Peer Leaders, and Kind Club members make with others whose day is made better simply by knowing that someone else cares about them.