MUSCATINE, Iowa – Iowa Girl Scout Nicole Frisbie knows what it’s like to face bullies, and she doesn’t want young students to face the harassment alone. She decided to do something about it, to combat bullying with kindness. And when it comes to character formation, kindness is essential.
The 17-year-old recently received the Girls Scouts’ highest honor, the Gold Award, for her work to create a “buddy bench” at her former grade school, McKinley Elementary, that’s already making a positive impact.
According to the Muscatine Journal:
Frisbie’s award-winning project involved the creation of a “buddy bench”—a space where students who are feeling bullied or left out can go to sit on the playground that alerts teachers or other students that they need help or would like companionship. Frisbie’s project involved not only the construction of the bench at her grade school alma mater, McKinley, but a training program for students and administrators regarding use of the bench and its impact, backed up by various studies in education and social science.
“It felt awesome to be a part of this and earn this award, but it’s an even more amazing feeling to know that my work is going to help kids from being bullied,” Frisbie told the news site. “I went to school at McKinley and I was bullied and it was terrible. My goal was to help the school and other kids so they don’t have to go through what I did.”
The buddy bench, she said, has already improved learning in measurable ways in its first year.
“The number of disciplinary reports have gone down and attendance has gone up,” Frisbie said. “The first is pretty explanatory, but the second—kids who are being bullied sometimes won’t want to be in school and will try to avoid it if they can.”
“I had a parent tell me that her son used it and it helped him and that was really cool,” she said. “When you do a project like this you want it to work, but you’re not really sure if it will. You hope it will. And when it does, especially a project like this, it feels really good.”
Many believe the epidemic of bullying in schools is tied closely to the disappearance of character education, which helps students develop important traits like empathy, compassion, and kindness without regard to the social costs.
“It is easy to affirm a general idea of kindness, but quite another to believe that other people are intrinsically worth being treated kindly, and that because of that belief, one has an obligation to actually treat them kindly,” James Davison Hunter, founder of University of Virginia’s Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture, wrote in his book The Tragedy of Moral Education in America.
“The first is a much more flexible and convenient morality than the second, and it is one that is easier to ignore when the cost of holding to it rises.”
Lessons on character would help students identify classmates in trouble, even without the buddy bench. But while efforts to teach good character are organized, Frisbie’s project can be an effective way to address a lack of kindness. For instance, elementary-school educators could try a lesson on the virtue of kindness by asking students to become “secret agents of kindness.”
Frisbie’s own character provided the fortitude to persevere through the two-year project while balancing many other demands as a top student at Muscatine High School, where she participates in dance, color guard, and band, the Journal reports.
She raised $700 to buy the bench, as well as other funds for the frame and training materials, which the teen collected through bake sales, by soliciting donations, and other fundraising efforts.
Maura Warner, spokeswoman for Girls Scouts of Eastern Iowa and Western Illinois, said the Gold Award is an earned achievement and that it requires a lot of time, effort, and determination to bring a meaningful service project to life.
It’s an experience that builds character.
“She’s the first girl in about five years to win the honor from Muscatine,” Warner said. “It’s a really prestigious award. There’s a lot of time put into it. You have to create and manage a project and get it done successfully. It’s not about winning it; it’s about earning it."