Williamston School District incorporates Be Nice Program

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A Williamston Be Nice decoration, created by students is displayed in the hallway of Williamston middle school. Credit: Sean Gardner

The “Be Nice Program” is a student-run organization that has slowly made its way to the Williamston School District. According to benice.org, the program is a “mental health education, bully and suicide prevention initiative that creates a positive cultural change through simply daily actions.”

The site describes the program as the “stop, drop and roll” of mental health.

Dr. Michele Cook, director of curriculum and special education of the Williamston Community Schools and Lexi Michalski, social worker for Williamston Middle and High Schools, gave a presentation at the latest Williamston Board of Education meeting. They showed the progress of the program as it continues to develop in the Williamston School District.

Dr. Michele Cook and Lexi Michalski give their presentation at the Williamston board meeting on March 18. CREDIT: Sean Gardner

“The program in Williamston was purchased last July, and so we are just up and running as of September,” said Cook. The “Be Nice Program” is student-led, so a lot of the progress is based on the students’ roles and not the teachers. “We want our kids to go from middle school to high school noticing, inviting, challenging and empowering,” said Cook.

Even though the program just began in the Williamston School District, there have been several students who have shown interest in the program. Michalski said the leadership committee has about 12 kids at the middle school level and about nine kids at the high school.

“We have had an increase in students since the presentation,” said Michalski. “The students who are involved are just full throttling engaged with it. They come in, they send me notes with ideas, they spend a lot of their free time on it.”

Linda Ereg is a counselor at Williamston High School, and she is also excited Williamston is bringing in this program.

“Mental health is becoming more prevalent in this day and age,” said Ereg. “What I like is that it is starting before high school and by the time they graduate from junior high, they will have already been introduced to the program.”

There are about 250 schools involved in the program throughout the West Michigan area. The headquarters for the Be Nice Program is located at the Mental Health Foundation of West Michigan in Grand Rapids at 349 S Division Ave. Grand Rapids MI. If an organization is interested in getting involved in the Be Nice Program, more info can be found at https://www.benice.org/ .

“We are using this program to educate students about mental health,” said Cat Lanting, the program coordinator at MHF. She has been with MHF since 2011. “Our main goal is suicide prevention,” said Lanting.

According to its website, the Be Nice Program began in 2011, and it was an add-on to the “Live, Laugh, Love Program.”

“At the core of Be Nice, is the idea that your words and actions have a tremendous power, the power to change someone’s life,” the website said.

“How you treat others can have a major impact on their mental health. Simple efforts on your part to infuse positivity into negative situations can make someone’s day and even save their life. This is the powerful, positive message behind be nice.”

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