ENCORE: Ankeny High School Shows Its 'Youmanity' in Fight Against Bullying
A new program at Ankeny High School encourages students and staff members to reward each other for being kind. One student even spread word of the program to First Lady Michelle Obama during her recent Iowa visit.
Pay it forward. Do unto others. Treat others as you want to be treated.
There are many ways to talk about treating others with respect and kindness, but with the recent start of a new program at Ankeny High School, students there aren’t just talking about it — they’re doing it and encouraging others to do it, too.
Just last week, the high school launched a new program called AHS Youmanity. The anti-bullying program is one being introduced in schools throughout the Midwest to promote random acts of kindness and general good will toward others.
And according to Ankeny High School administrators and students, the program is catching on fast.
“This is such an excellent way for teens of this era to do good things for their community that can last a lifetime,” said Lisa Hill, an assistant principal at Ankeny High School. “Sometimes teens get a bad rap, but these kids are doing incredible things.”
Youmanity is a program sponsored and supported by AVIVA, and it officially kicked off at AHS last week. The program promotes the “pay it forward” mentality through the use of tokens. Students receive tokens and are encouraged to pass the token on to someone who does something nice for them; therefore, keeping that feeling of good will in the mind of each recipient and encouraging them to also reward random acts of kindness they see.
The tokens can also be registered online. This allows the token’s many owners to track it and see what others did to earn the token.
Despite the start of this program, Hill said showing kindness to others is a strength Ankeny students possessed even before this program.
Students have pulled together several times this school year, Hill said, including to raise money for fellow student, Joe Tourte, and his family. Tourte lost his battle with health issues on Jan. 22. Students also were there to support one another when the district lost former student Dyamond Ott, tennis coach Dennis Hoefle and bus driver Dennis Ross.
Students even took their support outside Ankeny to Johnston when the community suffered the tragic loss of two students when they took their own lives. In this case, Ankeny students left Post-It notes on car windshields throughout Johnston High School’s parking lot, many containing messages like, “It will be okay” and “We’re thinking of you.”
“We’ve been through a lot this year at this school,” Hill said. “The students are always doing things for one another, and we were sure they would love this program.”
AHS Assistant Principal Matthew Blackmore said he learned of the program through his neighbor, Mara White, who was working with AVIVA in a school district in Joliet, Ill.
“They saw this as a great way to push humanity into the community,” Blackmore said.
Once AVIVA gave Ankeny the go-ahead to start the program at AHS, Blackmore and Hill brought together a student leadership team to decide how to implement it and create a buzz throughout the school.
One way was to create an AHS Youmanity Twitter account and send out tweets alluding to what was coming.
“We had 128 followers within the first week,” Blackmore said.
Walking through the halls of Ankeny High School, one would notice YOUmanity posters hanging on the walls, encouraging students by citing random acts of kindness.
The team also hid cards throughout the school, cards students would have to bring to Blackmore, who would then explain to the students what YOUmanity is and present them with a token to give out.
“We told them what it was up in hopes they would tell others,” Blackmore said. “Honestly, we haven’t heard any negative feedback.”
AVIVA representatives also came to the high school on April 25 to talk to students about the program. The company’s visit marked the official kickoff of the program, and students used it as a time to share how they’d paid it forward.
“It’s opening a door for someone, telling someone they have a nice smile, only on a much larger scale,” Blackmore said.
They hope to one day extend the program to both the middle and elementary schools in Ankeny, Blackmore said. As for the high school, it’s definitely here to stay.
“The seniors really want this to be a part of their legacy – a new tradition in a new building,” Blackmore said.
AHS Youmanity Coin Possibly Has Reached the White House
Students at Ankeny High School have done a lot to earn their Youmanity token. John Schmidt, an 18-year-old senior, earned his due to his volunteer work as a fellow at the Obama campaign office in Des Moines.
“Mrs. Hill gave it to me,” Schmidt said in an email to Ankeny Patch. “She said that no matter what political party it’s for, it’s good to see students who are civic-minded getting involved in politics in their community.”
But Schmidt didn’t hang on to his token for long.
He had the opportunity to meet First Lady Michelle Obama at an event held in Windsor Heights last week. The event was organized by the Des Moines campaign office.
After the first lady’s speech, Schmidt had the chance to talk to her before she left.
“Michelle Obama is special to me because her charity of choice is one that helps out military families,” said Schmidt, whose father is still on active duty in the Army and recently finished his second tour in Iraq.
Schmidt thanked the first lady, he said, before passing off his token to her.
“I think she really deserves it and I hope she gets the chance to enter it,” Schmidt said.
Schmidt supports Youmanity at AHS because it’s a way to recognize things that often go unrecognized.
“When you give someone one of these coins, it makes them feel worthwhile and included in your life,” Schmidt said. “This creates a lot of positive energy and I think you can tell when you’re walking through the halls.”
Follow AHS YOUmanity on Twitter to see all the updates on what students are doing for one another.