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WTHR visits the 'Kindest Middle School' in America

The mantra at Harshman Middle School is be kind. And it's not just a saying, it's a way of life.

INDIANAPOLIS (WTHR) — The mantra at Harshman Middle School is be kind. And it's not just a saying, it's a way of life.

Last spring the school was named the "Kindest Middle School" in America in a national challenge. The school's submission detailed their goal: to create a school-wide community that is empathetic, respectful, accountable and motivated.

The seventh and eighth grade IPS building has nearly 500 students from all over Indianapolis. WTHR staff visited Harshman Middle School this month for "A Seat At the Table," and to talk about kindness with faculty, staff and students.

As part of the challenge, the students came up with four annual kindness rituals for the school year. The ritual includes a donation drive to show kindness to the community, a kindness walkway so students feel welcome coming to school every day, a peace garden where students can release frustrations, and a kindness community day where students volunteered at Gleaners Food Bank.

“We are a school that does a lot of nice things in order to have a voice for our students,” said Shari’ Thomas, a Harshman seventh-grade science teacher.

Another big component of the Harshman way is empathy, which is a concept the students learn more about every day through real life examples.

“What if someone is not having a good day or their parents got in a fight and they come to school sad and upset?” eighth-grader Jimena Serna asked. “What I would do, we would go up to them and say, 'are you ok; do you need help,' just be there to comfort them until they feel better.”

When asked the students if empathy is hard to understand at such a young age.

“I would say for a lot of students it is because you have a lot going on with your own life so sometimes you think, oh, how am I to picture myself and see how somebody else feels when I cannot even understand how I feel yet," eighth-grader Shanelle Williams had a very thoughtful answer.

The students also make it a priority to look after everyone.

“At Harshman, they don't discriminate, they care about everybody for who they are, we love them for who they are, said eighth-grader Javon Members. “We don't talk behind anybody’s back because that's how we are, we just love each other.”

As part of their prize for winning the Kindness Challenge, the students won $5,000 to buy materials to continue their mission of kindness throughout the school.