GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — In 2023, being a kid can be hard.

“It’s really weird hearing from adults, like, say, how they didn’t experience this as a kid,” Lillian Kaspersky, a 12th grader at Grand Rapids Montessori, said. “And then coming to school and seeing like everyone experience these things.”

She said anxiety and depression are a part of the student body.

“Kids, like, way, way younger than you think should be struggling with these issues and feeling alone and having these very real, like, adult thoughts that it’s very hard for young adolescents to go through,” Kaspersky said. “Their brain isn’t developed. They don’t know what to do with these. So they, I think, cope in unhealthy ways.”

It’s an increasing concern for the school’s behavioral specialist, Jamie Duffey.

“I have students come to me when they’re in distress or crisis or just need someone to talk to,” she said. “And I noticed early on that depression and anxiety and suicidal ideation have all been prevalent already so far, like in the school year.”

Then, a parent told Duffey about Family’s Fare’s One School at a Time grant: $1,000 to use to make a positive difference for kids, schools and communities.

“I applied, didn’t think I was going to get it because I’ve never done this before,” Duffey recalled.

But she did, and she knew exactly where the grant would give grace.

“I had heard about the ‘be nice.’ program,” Duffey said. “I heard that it cost them money. I looked into that and realized I needed to get some extra money to get this going.”

When Duffey found out she had received the grant, she emailed Isabella Buck, program coordinator with The Mental Health Foundation of West Michigan’s ‘be nice.’ initiative.

“I love receiving positive emails, so it was really nice,” Buck said. “She was really excited. You could tell in the email too.”

Buck explained that the ‘be nice.’ program goes beyond an uplifting message.

“‘be nice.’ overall is just a good message, right? To just be nice,” she said. “But then you really dive in, and it’s that action plan for mental health and suicide prevention. And we know that this is something that students are dealing with of all ages. So for Grand Rapids Montessori to have that K-12 approach is really cool as well, because ‘be nice.’ can be in that K-12 level, and it’s really peer-to-peer led in that Montessori space.”

Kaspersky is one Grand Rapids Montessori student who has already taken on the role of ‘be nice.’ leader.

“I know that the ‘be nice.’ program has a lot of evidence-based studies,” Kaspersky said. “And I think it would bring a lot of people closure and peace of mind to know that there’s really good actual studies based on this, and it’s not just like, ‘Hey, you’re going to be okay because I said so.'”

The ‘be nice.’ program uses a four-step approach: Notice, invite, challenge and empower — one student at a time.

The Mental Health Foundation of West Michigan says the initial cost of the program can be a hurdle for schools because of the cost of training, but it becomes self-sustaining after a few years.

You can give your school a chance to receive the One School at a Time Grant here.