Dignity Revolution takes hold in Hitchcock-Tulare School District
By Shiloh Appel
A revolution is happening in the Hitchcock-Tulare School District. It all started with a dare. A dare to stand up for the underdog. A dare to be courageous. A dare to value and respect all people. It is called the “Dignity Revolution.”
A program founded by national speaker, Bob Lenz, Dignity Revolution was first brought to Hitchcock-Tulare School District last year during a one-day assembly program. Lenz, who is known for his down-to-earth style of speaking on the tough issues of life, brought a strong message. He shared the story of his best friend, Ronny, who, in his own words, was smart, athletic, popular and good looking. Lenz said he always wanted a life like Ronny’s. Until the day Ronny committed suicide.
“Questions raced through my mind. Why? How could Ronny not know he was valuable?” said Lenz.
Soon, it was revealed that, in his own home, Ronny had suffered abuse throughout his lifetime at the hands of his violent mother. He had never told anyone.
“Ronny’s mom needed help. Unfortunately, she didn’t seek or receive the support she so desperately needed. Instead, she treated her son like garbage without respect or dignity. Over time, Ronny started believing it was true, that he was worthless and unworthy of love or life. He believed he was just trash,” said Lenz. “…If I took your five-dollar bill and tore it into pieces, how much is it worth? Five dollars. Would you throw it away? No. Why? Because it still has value. It’s still worth something.
I actually did this once and tried taping all the pieces back together. I was concerned when I discovered a piece was missing. When I nervously handed the ‘incomplete’ bill to the teller at the bank, she handed over a brand new five-dollar bill in exchange without hesitation. She told me as long as it had the identification number it hadn’t lost its value. …The damaged five-dollar bill had value because it had a government inscription, a number and a seal, its value verified. Believe me when I say your worth is so much more than that of a five-dollar bill. You have rights ,dignity and value that can never be taken away, no matter what others have done to you.”
Lenz spoke not only on the value of all people, but also dared students to be an “up stander” instead of a “by stander” by having the courage to stand up for those who are being bullied instead of following the crowd.
After last year’s assembly program, elementary principle and school superintendent, Jeff Clark, said that students and teachers ran with the message for awhile, but it eventually faded into the back of their minds. It wasn’t until last February that the school district had a wake-up call and the program was brought back into the spotlight.
“In February, I had the opportunity to go to a national superintendent’s conference. That is all I heard was social-emotional problems and the mental wellbeing of our students. Every session was on that. A lot of guys from across the nation were saying, ‘man, we are struggling with this.’ I thought, ‘you know, we are a small school’…” said Clark, implying that he didn’t think, at the time, that it was an issue at Hitchcock -Tulare. “I hit the airport in Minneapolis and Mr. Nelson called me and said, ‘Hey, just so you know, we had a couple kids attempt to harm themselves this weekend,’” said Clark. “…So I started reaching out to some of the people I had met at the conference from across the nation and we started looking at different things…and we kept coming back to what Bob had talked about last year - the Dignity Revolution: Value, Courage, Respect.”
The Hitchcock-Tulare School District then started planning to implement the Dignity Revolution curriculum and message into the very fabric of the school.
“We really based it on the three things that Bob talked about,” said Clark. “Every person has value, no matter what has happened to them, number two is that you need to have the courage to stand up and do the right thing, even when others aren’t, and number three is every person deserves respect, including yourself.”
The Hitchcock-Tulare School Foundation and Sisters in Spirit (a local women’s organization) helped sponsor Lenz’s second appearance at Hitchcock-Tulare this year. The school ordered the Dignity Revolution books and teaching material. They made “Value,” “Courage” and “Respect” signs, and hung them in the school. Dignity Revolution T-shirts, bracelets, and pledge cards were made. Teachers were trained. Parents and the community were included in the new revolution. Dignity Revolution days are now held at the school twice a month, and school principles, Jeff Clark and Clint Nelson are starting to see results.
“One activity we did with parents last night is called “heavy load.” Basically, you take a backpack and you wrap some books. It is everything from peer pressure, to drug and alcohol abuse, tough home life, family problems, this and that and you start stuffing the backpack with it. And then that person wearing the backpack is like man, this is getting heavy. Then you take your English book and it is like how do you fit English in here? How do you fit Math in here?” said Clark. “Pretty soon, it is an eye-opener to parents and staff, ‘maybe our kids are bringing more to school than they realize. How are they going to function in Algebra, because at that point, Algebra doesn’t matter. If mom blew up at me and I am worried about my parents or siblings or this or that, I could care less about math, you know?’ So it is about trying to help kids in stress-management.”
Some of the incentives that the school has developed to encourage students to support each other is a point system for showing one or more of the three virtues of value, courage, and respect. Elementary students will receive “Kindness Coins” for showing kindness to others. High school students receive Dignity Revolution cards that gives them five extra credit points. After Christmas, High School students will receive blue and red Patriot cards for showing one of the three virtues. The cards can be used to buy snacks at the student store.
“Here, the other day — I will give you an example. Most of the kids sit together at lunch. Well, there was a young man sitting by himself and one of the seniors went and sat next to him. So he wasn’t eating lunch by himself. To me, that shows value, courage and respect,” said Nelson. The student received a Dignity Revolution card.
“It is kind of similar in the elementary. I actually noticed - I was walking to the lunchroom yesterday and I saw this third grade student sitting with a bunch of kindergarteners. Usually he is sitting with the other boys at the third grade table,” said Clark. “I called him and said ‘hey, come here a minute. You are sitting over here, what’s the deal?’ He said ‘I just wanted to have a conversation with the kindergarteners and see how they are doing instead of sitting with the third graders.’ To me, that deserves a Kindness Coin because he is going out of his way to speak into some younger kids’ lives. Those are the things that they are starting to realize- how important it is to invest in other people.”
Clark said he has also noticed kids who help other kids off the school bus and help to carry their bags as well.
“We are excited about this, we really are,” said Clark. “A lot of it comes down to, in today’s society, a lot of people hear the word bullying and you’ve got to have an ‘anti-bullying program,’ and it does all that, but it goes beyond. So many things that people do now are just surface. This is really getting down to trying to deal with kids and the issues that they have because a lot of times…hurting people hurt others. Kids need to understand that they need to recognize and regulate their own feelings. They need to learn how to talk to somebody and not put a mask up. How to deal with stresses that they bring to the classroom. How to regulate stress so they can be affective. Those are life lessons that will help them be successful long past this school. That is what we are hoping to be able to do, is get down to the root problems instead of dealing with the surface issues.”
To find out more about Dignity Revolution, visit https://dignitypledge.com.