A few days ago, I visited Harbor Ridge Middle School to catch the farewell ceremonies for the six visiting Chinese students who have enjoyed staying with the school’s host families while observing and absorbing our way of life. More of this, later.
I had no idea I’d have the pleasure of participating with our youngsters in the Stu Cabe — Ovation Company Seventh-grade workshop at the middle school. What an exciting, inspiring experience!
HRMS Language Arts Teacher Kathryn Portteus, also known as “Mrs. P,” said Cabe, a nationally-known motivational speaker for youth from the Ovation Company, based in Coeur D’Alene, Idaho, came to Harbor Ridge to speak about the power of kindness and empathy towards others. Cabe speaks to more than 250 schools a year throughout the U.S. and has spoken to over a million students in his career. His website is ovationcompany.com.
“He did an all-school keynote address for 75 where he captured the audience’s attention, speaking of being a bright light that makes someone’s day, not the person who dims it. His motto is ‘Play Fair, Work Hard, Be Nice’ and ‘Be a Big Elephant,’ ” she said.
After the assembly, he worked with 190 seventh-graders and 36 eighth-grade mentors in the gym for an all-day workshop, teaching students how to break down the barriers that divide them and find commonalities between them.
His message is that, “you don’t have to be friends with everyone, but you must be friendly. We all have struggles we are facing and you never know what someone is dealing with. Be kind and reach out to those who are hurting. The more you know about someone, the easier it is to be nice to them. Be a Big Elephant — which means be a role model to others and set an example of doing what is right, not just what is popular.”
“I loved spending the morning playing large group games with my whole grade. I have been in this district my whole life and I met kids I never knew before,” said seventh-grader Hallee Graf. “It was so much fun to see kids outside of the class setting and just have fun playing together.”
In an informal survey of the 225 students who participated in the workshop, students agreed that it was one of the best days they have ever had at school and hope that the workshop becomes a yearly tradition at Harbor Ridge because the message of kindness matters is so important for middle schoolers, Portteus said.
Seventh-grader Violet Portteus said, “I am new to Harbor Ridge this year and it made me feel so much more comfortable to spend the day getting to know new people in my grade and to realize that we all face the same struggles; we just need to be kind to each other.”
Said classmate Gideon Ellis, “In the afternoon bracelet activity, I got to reconnect with friends I haven’t spoken to since second grade. I got to tell people how much they mean to me and tell them what I appreciate about them. We got to apologize to each other for things we have said and done. This workshop was one of the best days of my life and I hope this feeling of unity among all of us continues.”
Kathryn Portteus said, “This is the sixth time I have organized this assembly and workshop since I have been teaching in the Peninsula School District. I have watched Stu interact with over a thousand seventh- and eighth-graders. I have had several high school students write me years later to thank me for bringing Stu to our school in middle school; that his message of being a Big Elephant and standing up for what is good changed the direction of their lives and made them want to get involved in leadership in high school.”
It doesn’t get much better than this!
Hugh McMillan is a longtime contributing writer for the Gateway. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.