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Student Leader Devotes Fridays to Friendship

It’s a little card with simple directions, but Byron Center High School students know what passing it out results in: smiles, a feeling of belonging, friendship and confidence.

The business-style cards circulate the high school, West Middle School and Nickels Intermediate School every Friday. Declaring “Friendship Friday!” along with the message “Help Show Random Acts of Kindness,” they move from student to student, each one passing them forward along with small good deeds.

The brain behind the cards is Nick Baker, a senior who realized showing true leadership means connecting people in positive ways. His efforts to spread kindness are why staff members recommended him for the School News Network Series on student leaders.

“It’s an easy and simple way to show random acts of kindness,” Baker said. “We are in a society when we don’t see that a lot.

“My goal is to create a positive culture, to have kids look forward to going to school, to feel welcome and stop the bullying. You are always going to have bullies, but it’s a lot cooler to see many more people being nice than being bullies.”

Baker introduced his idea early this school year as part of the new Student Life and Leadership class. The course focuses on developing communication, passion, motivation, community and humility. Baker said he saw the cards as a part of servant leadership, which he learned about in class and through the book “Lead Like Jesus,” by Ken Blanchard and Phil Hodges.

“I always knew I wanted to do something that would benefit others, and being nice and giving compliments is the cornerstone to that,” he said.

The leadership students started by passing outthe Friendship Friday message on note cards, but teachers Megan Soukup and Melissa Gallup saw them and ordered professional business cards.

Byron Center High School senior Nick Baker, at right, greets sophomore Hunter James VandeVelde and teacher Doug Takens
Byron Center High School senior Nick Baker, at right, greets sophomore Hunter James VandeVelde and teacher Doug Takens

Pass on a Kindness

On the flip-side of the cards are instructions:

“If received, pass it on by choosing one:

  1. Introduce yourself to a stranger;
  2. Give somebody a high five;
  3. Personally invite somebody to a school event;
  4. Give a compliment”

Baker estimated about 100 cards circulate each Friday prompting simple good deeds. He’s seen people join students sitting alone at lunch and share kind words.

“On Fridays, I see a lot of high fives,” he said. “I know if I’m having a rough day, if someone comes up to me and gives me a high five, it makes me feel a whole lot better.”

Changing Perceptions about High School

Leadership class students are also working with younger students to help lay a foundation where being nice is respected. They teach Nickels Intermediate fifth- and sixth-grade students simplified high school leadership lessons.

“We want to let them know this is what we are doing at the high school,” Baker said. “I got bullied at West Middle and Nickels because being nice wasn’t the cool thing to do.”

He hopes students grow up to consider kindness as an ingrained part of high school culture. He said he looks forward to visiting in 10 years and seeing what impact leadership has had.

Band Director Marc Townley said he’s notice the effects of Friendship Fridays.

“I have been very impressed with the efforts to spread Friendship Fridays to our other schools,” Townley said. “There is no question that the overall environment becomes more light and fun when students like Nick are working to bring such a positive atmosphere to our overall culture.”

Principal Scott Joseph said Baker has transformed student leadership at the high school by sharing “a vision of positivity and caring for others.”

“Alongside other students, Nick has challenged the status quo of seniors acting superior,” Joseph said. “He has shifted the thinking to seniors serving underclassmen and teaching appropriate behavior.

“Nick is an example of the power so many students have if they just choose to act out of love, serving and caring,” Joseph added. “He is not the only one doing this, but he is an example of the power students have in leading culture.”

Junior Josh Carter said Baker is a fun, caring friend to everyone.

“He always sees people as people, and he’s always really humble,” Carter said. “He’s super-real about everything he says and does, and he’s passionate about it.”

Baker, a talented musician who plays alto saxophone in the Byron Center Jazz Orchestra, is also involved in Be Nice, the Mental Health Foundation of West Michigan anti-bullying initiative, and Pride Pack, the student-led organization formed to build school unity and community pride.

The son of Todd and Lisa Baker, Nick is auditioning for music programs at Western Michigan University, Michigan State University and Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn. to attend this fall.

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Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese is associate managing editor and reporter, covering Byron Center, Kentwood, Wyoming and Grand Rapids Community College. She was one of the original SNN staff writers, helping launch the site in 2013 and enjoys fulfilling the mission of sharing the stories of public education. She has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers, On-the-Town Magazine and Group Tour Media. Read Erin's full bio or email Erin.

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