Program encourages kindness

WARREN — Students at Jefferson PK-8 School spent time decorating “kindness jars” as they learned the importance of treating each other kindly as part of the 21st Century Community Learning Center program.

The theme of the program was “kindness counts.”

To show the importance of kindness, students have been reading the book “Wonder” about a boy with facial differences and how he deals with life.

Poland resident Freddie Seitz, who had similar facial differences as the main character in “Wonder” shared personal challenges from his life.

Seitz said he was born 10 weeks early with Goldenhar Syndrome — a craniofacial difference that, among other things, left him without his right ear, cheek or jawbone.

He had more than 19 surgeries as a child to repair parts of his face and help him breathe. He uses sign language to communicate.

Seitz said he dealt with his share of bullying and lots of people staring at him but he kept doing what he wanted to succeed.

Seitz graduated from the University of Akron with a degree in electrical engineering and is now looking for a job.

In the book, “Wonder,” the main character’s face is deformed due to a type of “mandibulofacial dysostosis” along with other facial malformations. He faces many difficulties when he goes into his first year of middle school after being schooled by his parents for many years. He is able to make new friends and accept himself for who he is.

Mesa Morlan, 21st Century site coordinator, said students were impressed by Seitz and also have enjoyed reading the book.

“He shared his experiences and dealing with bullying,” she said.

Morlan said families came together for the second of three family night events as part of the 21st Century program.

The program is designed to help increase learning with extra help for students with schoolwork as well as offer recreational activities such as basketball, running, boxing and fitness activities.

Another highlight of the event was decorating kindness jars.

Alexander Goldner, 12, sixth grade, said he likes the program because of the different activities to take part in.

Ariajina Hill, 13, eighth grade, said she likes hearing from different guest speakers including Seitz.

“I learned what he went through when he was bullied, and how he handled what he went through,” Hill said.

Jill Merola, supervisor of community outreach and grant development, said James Ritter, director of Kent State University at Trumbull, also spoke to the students and parents on preparing for college.

“Work on developing good study habits now. Also begin to think about what you want to do in life and to get ready for college,” Ritter said.

He told the students they need to believe they will be successful.

“Many students don’t make it in college because they don’t put the time in. If you study hard, have good grades, and a good ACT score, colleges will help you cover costs,” Ritter said.

Ritter said while a major does not have to be declared when someone starts college, they should have an idea of what they would like to do. He said most every college student takes similar classes their first year.