PITTSFIELD — With just a wardrobe choice, Imari Chadwell made a bold statement.
Imari, an 8-year-old student at KidZone Child Care / Educational Centers, wore a black sweater, but with the word "love" whimsically knitted across the front in bright colors and a pink heart shape in place of the letter "o."
Her sweater was meant as a message to bullies.
"It's important to stop bullying so that everyone can be friends, and so that [kids] can feel good about themselves," she said.
Wednesday was Blackout Against Bullying Day at KidZone, an event developed as part of the center's designation of February as "Kindness Month."
Students, teachers and staff were asked to wear black clothing in solidarity of Black Out Bullying Day.
Blackout Against Bullying Day and Kindness Month is coordinated by KidZone school age program director Sharon Connors with support from staff and parents. She said the purpose of these themed events and activities is to not just tell kids that bullying is wrong, but to explain and show why kindness and non-violent responses to bullying are better decisions for people.
"My hope is that everyone will find more positive, helpful ways to handle bullies and if you are the bully to get some help and build empathy within yourself," Connors said. "Children have to learn appropriate social skills so that they can grow to become kind, well-adjusted, successful adults. Even in young children these skills are needed and should be nurtured."
In the pre-kindergarten room for 4- and 5-year-olds, teacher Priscilla Hopkins and her co-teachers for at least a decade have used materials from the Second Step Violence Prevention Curriculum developed by the national Committee for Children.
The curriculum kit comes with plush puppets like "Impulsive Puppy," "Slow Down Snail" and "Be-Calm Bunny" — tools used to role play social scenarios, like being bullied or feeling angry, and then modeling positive behaviors like choosing not to hit back or using words to explain feelings of frustration to another person.
"It's a way to develop their social skills so they can learn about their feelings and how to recognize others' feelings," Hopkins said.
Case in point: When KidZone Director Susan Robert saw one boy on the verge of retaliating against another boy who was infringing on his building blocks, Robert reminded the upset boy to tell the other how he felt about that. "I feel angry when you do that," the boy said.
"Nice use of your words," Robert said.
Specifically for Blackout Against Bullying Day, older children created posters for classroom doors and fliers for the walls reminding students and visitors to stop bullying and offering tips to deal with a bully.
To further promote positive actions for Kindness Month, class members are posting paper hearts on the walls detailing students' good deeds and choices. The entire center is participating in a food drive to raise goods for local food pantries.
Materials, activities and other educational tools are also being made available for parents to help both children and adults practice expressing emotions and positive responses at home.