Students at Kentucky’s Marshall County High School are sending a message: “We Choose Kindness.”
It’s the theme of a new 8- by 12-foot mural designed to offer hope just months after two students were killed and several others injured in a school shooting. Student Gabe Parker shot and killed 15-year-olds Bailey Hold and Preston Cope on January 23, 2018, and school officials have since installed metal detectors and other safety precautions to prevent a similar situation in the future, WDRB reports.
Those precautions are helping students regain trust, while the mural is helping students to move past the tragedy through art, while also providing a bonding experience with a powerful message.
“I hope that people can understand that being nice is really easy,” project creator Hallie Riley told WPSD.
Riley said she picked “We Choose Kindness” from 60 different mural entries because of what it represents. The image depicts three hands joining together, a testament to a culture of inclusion that will be displayed in a community kindness garden that took root in the wake of the shooting.
“I think that when they see this, they should see the hands stand out,” Riley said. “You should hold hands, and kind of join all together, and be really friendly toward one another.”
Students plan to include benches in the garden to allow students to reflect on that message and help classmates struggling with life.
“The bench just kind of means if someone sits there, you know, they’re having a rough day,” Riley said. “You don’t have to say anything to them, you don’t have to acknowledge it. You just sit there with them, and that person that is going through something knows ‘Hey, they’re there for me.”
It’s a theme students are hoping to expand well beyond their school.
“Why not spread the message of ‘We Choose Kindness’ beyond the walls of the Kindness Garden in Benton, Kentucky?” artist Kijsa Housman told WPSD. “Spread it to the ends of the state, to the ends of the nation. You know you can’t have too much kindness.”
The mural and other lessons taken from the tragedy earlier this year will undoubtedly play a key role in how students at Marshall County High School develop their moral sensibility.
James Davison Hunter, founder of the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture, points out in his book “The Death of Character”:
(W)e must acquire a moral sensibility – we learn what is right and wrong, good and bad, what is to be taken seriously, ignored, or rejected as abhorrent – and we learn, in moments of uncertainty, how to apply our moral imagination to different circumstances.
Over time, we acquire a sense of obligation and the discipline to follow them.
The education website TeachThought offers advice from the Ripple Kindness Project to help students “learn by feeling” the benefits of selfless kindness.
“It seems we just can’t get enough of those addictive feel good emotions and with good reason,” according to the column, which provides “8 Reasons For Teaching Kindness In School.” “Scientific studies have shown that kindness has a great number of physical and emotional benefits, and that children require a healthy dose of the warm and fuzzies in order to flourish as healthy, happy, well-rounded individuals.”