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Emma Suggs: Project K.I.N.D.

Emma Suggs: Project K.I.N.D.

By Susan Marquez

Emma Suggs is the kind of girl who loves being kind. She’s also a natural leader and problem solver. It’s for those reasons her Project K.I.N.D. is a natural fit for the vivacious Germantown High School senior.

Emma is in Germantown’s Community Solving Program of Future Problem-Solving Program International. The competition challenges gifted students to identify a problem within their school or community, and work on ways to solve it. Sadly, one of the problems Emma identified was bullying. She had seen acts of bullying in the schools she has attended, and she wanted to explore why bullying happens and how to prevent students from being bullies.

The first step was research, and the facts Emma uncovered are staggering. Her research suggests that 91% of students between fourth and eighth grade have admitted to being bullied or picked on. Research indicates that one out of ten students drop out of school due to bullying and being the victim of bullying can lead to long-term effects, such as having difficulties keeping a job, becoming an abuser of alcohol and drugs, and never rising to one’s full potential. “Cliques usually start in grades three through five, and is worst in grades six through eight,” states Emma.

While there are many anti-bullying campaigns in schools, they teach the simple idea of “just don’t bully.” Emma says that saying “don’t bully” and teaching children how not to bully are two separate ideas. Rather than focusing on bullying, she believes a more effective approach is focusing on building habits of kindness.

Project K.I.N.D. (Kindness, Increasing empathy, Nurture Differences, Decrease Effects of Bullying)

Her Project K.I.N.D. (Kindness, Increasing empathy, Nurture Differences, Decrease Effects of Bullying) was launched last fall, starting with a project she worked through the Beta club to introduce a sticky note board in her school. “It worked well. Students can go by the board and pick a note that has an encouraging message on it. It lets them know they are not alone.”

Knowing that the peak bullying years are in middle school, Emma wanted to take her project into elementary schools, to nip bullying in the bud while giving students the tools they need to practice kindness. She began by reading Have You Filled a Bucket Today at Mannsdale Elementary and doing an activity with them to illustrate how sharing kindness works.

“I kind of started small and slow, and I was amazed at the snowball effect this project had,” says Emma. “I went to the regional competition and my project won. In the summer I went to the international competition at the University of Massachusetts.”

As the project grew, Emma created a questionnaire for counselors and school professionals to complete and she spent time interviewing school counselors and mental health professionals. “I have become fascinated with the neuropsychology of kindness,” says Emma. “Kindness is like a muscle. The more you practice kindness, the easier and more natural it becomes.”

A comprehensive month-by-month plan included a talk to 125 seventh graders at Germantown Middle School, and reading I Like Your Buttons to the K5 students at Madison Crossing Elementary School. Emma presented the project K.I.N.D. to counselors at the Mississippi Play

Therapy Conference and got some qualitative survey feedback. “That was a lot of fun. I was invited to present my project, and the surveys filled out there helped me focus on where I need to direct my efforts.”

Emma says the project has taken a lot of work. “I had no idea K.I.N.D. would take off like it has.” For the national competition, Emma created a scrapbook documenting what she’s been doing, where she’s been and the results she’s seen. The payoff for Emma is the smiles she gets. “This project has been so rewarding for me personally. I love seeing how kids react to acts of kindness.”

Emma has worked on the project after school and on weekends throughout the schoolyear while also juggling horseback riding and horse shows. When asked if she’ll continue the project after the competition, Emma responded with a resounding “yes!” Last spring Emma conducted a 21 Days of Kindness push on her Facebook and Instagram pages, Project K.I.N.D. She also met with Attorney General Jim Hood to share her project with him and discuss how she can continue to be a leader and a problem solver in her community. In the summer, she presented one of her kindness activities at the Mississippi Children’s Museum with an emphasis on emotions and communication.

Emma’s 2020 project is called Mission Cinderella. It was created to bring awareness to human trafficking and help the victims. Emma will be working with churches and other organizations to warn the people in our community that victims of human trafficking are promised the life of a princess, but what they receive is far from a fairytale. Emma is partnering with The Center for Violence Prevention and law enforcement. Her goal is to help the victims of human trafficking by providing them with “next step” bags that will include hygiene products and other necessities.

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