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District buildings promote mental health awareness  

Kenowa Hills — Down the kindergarten hallway at Central Elementary, Alexa Fitzpatrick’s classroom door reads “Bee kind to yourself.” The saying is surrounded by paper bees that were colored by her students. 

They also identified what kindness looks like in their own lives, and wrote those messages on individual “honeycombs” affixed to the door.

Kindergartner Cole VanDyke wrote that being kind means spending time with his mom. For classmate Nora Cervin, being kind to herself means “not hurting herself in school.” 

From the youngest learners at the Early Childhood Center to those at the high school, Knights are learning ways to be kind and inclusive — to themselves and others — as part of Paint Kenowa Green.

Originally a two-month, district-wide initiative that began in 2021, Paint Kenowa Green is now a semester-long celebration to raise awareness for mental health and end stigma around mental illness.

Brooke Davis, district director of diversity, equity and mental health services, wanted to start earlier this year to get everyone talking about mental health more often. Events and projects are spread out over the semester, and each building puts its own spin on decorations and spirit days.

“The more we begin to talk about it at a younger age, the more people get accustomed to it,” she said. “(The initiative) gets to be really fun when we do it throughout the whole district, in every school.” 

Davis said the overall goal is to educate students about mental health and challenge staff and students to promote wellness for themselves. 

During January, the three elementary schools decorated every room in green, including the front office and the cafeteria. At Zinser, staff and students even wore green every Friday.

Carley Sargent, a child behavior specialist at Zinser, said she presented mental health lessons to each classroom and Chick Fil-A donated toward the cost of a coffee and treat cart for staff.  

“We also did mindful mail, where each student received one positive message written by another student with a green sucker attached,” she said. 

ECC Learning Center Director Cali Lipscomb picked out several picture books and created a mental health reading corner in the main hallway. 

She said her hope was for parents to sit on the couch and read a book with their child before or after school, or for teachers to borrow them and use them in class lessons.  

“When it comes to mental health with younger kids, it’s all about feelings,” Lipscomb said. “We encourage talking about our feelings so kids know it’s OK to have them, and can learn how to navigate them.”

The front office staff at Zinser Elementary went all out with their decorations for Paint Kenowa Green (courtesy)
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Alexis Stark
Alexis Stark
Alexis Stark is a reporter covering Byron Center, Caledonia, Godfrey-Lee, Kenowa Hills and Thornapple Kellogg. She grew up in metro Detroit and her journalism journey brought her west to Grand Rapids via Michigan State University where she covered features and campus news for The State News. She also co-authored three 100-question guides to increase understanding and awareness of various human identities, through the MSU School of Journalism. Following graduation, she worked as a beat reporter for The Ann Arbor News, covering stories on education, community, prison arts and poetry, before finding her calling in education reporting and landing at SNN. Alexis is also the author of a poetry chapbook, “Learning to Sleep in the Middle of the Bed.”


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