Lee High School students win national kindness award

EVAC program brings students together, reduces violence

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Students at Lee High won the national KIND Schools Challenge for a program that brings students together and cuts down on violence. They came up with a way to foster kindness in their school and community. 

Lee High students celebrated after they found out they won the national KIND Schools Challenge for their #YourStoryIsMine project. Something their teacher says was needed in a school that's been plagued with violence.

"For me, I have to grieve the reality that far too many youth were going through the unthinkable, not just in our city, but in my classroom,” Amy Donofrio, a  teacher and the supervisor of the EVAC program at Lee High said. “It shouldn't be this way."

Donofrio helped form the EVAC program, creating positive change for at-risk African-American teens at Lee. Last year, they met President Obama, but three students from the program took it a step further starting the #YourStoryIsMine movement to bring their classmates together. They created a bulletin board and shared their personal stories about homelessness, incarcerated parents and other challenges.

"They related to the topics we chose,” said Lee junior Christopher Burgess. “Their experiences with those topics and how to get through it and other students were able to relate to it."

"It helped people realize we're not that different so there's no reason to result to violence," Lee junior Billy Luper said.

Other student can get involved by posting their stories on the bulletin located in the hallway and if they don't want to post their stories, they can still show their support by adding a heart or thumbs up sticker.

In just five short months, the movement has captured the attention of more than 4,000 people, including organizations like the KIND Foundation - a nonprofit started by KIND Healthy Snacks - and Making Caring Common, a project of the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

"In spite of so many circumstances, they're here at their school until 9 or 10 o'clock on a Friday night, working on this project because they believe Jacksonville can and will be a better place for youth," Donofrio said.

The three students who started the project said they've seen a positive change in how their classmates treat each other. As part of the contest, the students were given a cash prize and additional money to help keep the movement going.