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Kids recognized for positive leadership, kindness with 14 Under 14 awards
14 students in Cedar Rapids schools nominated by their teachers for Kids First award for exemplifying good citizenship, problem-solving and empathy
CEDAR RAPIDS — When Taft Middle School seventh-grader Kalli Gallagher noticed students with different abilities being excluded from extracurricular activities, she sought to start a Best Buddies program.
Best Buddies is a national nonprofit program and student-run friendship club that pairs students with and without disabilities to help create an inclusive school climate.
Last year, Kalli recalls being made fun of by her peers for sitting at lunch with students with intellectual disabilities. “Those are my friends,” Kalli said. “I feel comfortable around them. Those kids — I feel like they don’t judge me, and we all just have fun together.”
“You treat everyone like they’re your equal because they are,” Kalli’s teacher Analise Steeber told her. “I admire that and thought it should be recognized.”
Kalli, 12, is one of 14 students in the Cedar Rapids Community School District recognized Thursday with a 14 Under 14 award from Kids First Law Center. It highlights young leaders under the age of 14 for exemplifying positive leadership qualities like good citizenship, problem-solving, empathy and kindness.
Fifty teachers nominated students in Cedar Rapids schools for the award. A selection committee at Kids First narrowed that down to 14 honorees, said Jenny Schulz, executive director of the Kids First Law Center. This is the second year of the award.
The Kids First Law Center gives children a voice in divorce, custody and other conflicts by providing them with legal representation and services.
‘A kind heart’
Under Kalli’s leadership, Taft’s Best Buddies club met for the first time this month, with more than 30 students gathering. Kalli also volunteers with super sports, a program at Taft where students help their peers with intellectual disabilities in physical education class.
Every day, Kalli volunteers to read books to the students in the intellectual disabilities classroom who she has “genuine friendships” with, said Steeber, who nominated Kalli for the award.
April Gallagher, Kalli’s mom, said Kalli has “always had a soft heart for special needs kids.” Last year, she asked for money for Christmas and bought every one of the students at Taft with special needs a gift, April Gallagher said. “She’s got a super kind heart.”
Another recipient of the 14 Under 14 award, Bridgith Charles, 13, is being recognized for creating certificates of appreciation for her peers and school staff at Roosevelt Creative Corridor Business Academy. She presents a student — chosen with input from their teachers — with a certificate once a week.
Her dad, Timothee Charles, said he is so proud of her. Bridgith is a “good kid” who “always tries to help others,” he said.
Other students who received the “14 Under 14” Award are:
- Blaise Adams, 11, a fifth-grader at Erskine Elementary School, who comes to school with a smile on his face and ready to work hard every day. He is extraordinarily empathetic and is always willing to help someone in need, his teachers say.
- Brett Angeles-Gagnon, 11, a fifth-grader at Cedar River Academy, who is a friend to everyone and a dedicated student. When there’s a new person at school, he is the first to introduce himself and invites them to play at recess.
- Jack Brummer, 11, a fifth-grader at Pierce Elementary School, who puts other people’s needs before his own. If someone’s book falls on the floor during class, he bolts out of his seat to help and assists classmates with their homework, Schulz said.
- Lilah Clymer, 11, a fifth-grader at Johnson STEAM Academy, who is the “ultimate helper,” Schulz said. She comforts students who have difficult home lives and helps those struggling academically, Schulz said. Earlier this year, Clymer survived a severe car accident caused by a drunken driver. After a week in the hospital, she returned to school with a smile and her optimistic, positive spirit.
- Dakota Collins, 10, a fifth-grader at Arthur Elementary School, whose teachers have never heard him say a harsh word against anyone. Collins greets teachers every morning and afternoon and makes everyone’s days brighter, his teachers say.
- Nayca Dacius, 13, a sixth-grader at Roosevelt Creative Corridor Business Academy, who leads by example. She often steps into contentious situations and is the voice of reason even when adults struggle to do so, Schulz said.
- Gianna Gbor, 12, a seventh-grader at McKinley STEAM Academy, who volunteers as a library technology aide, delivering laptops to classrooms early in the morning. Gbor is always helping others without being asked, is an extremely hard worker, and is a “model student,” her teachers say.
- Mira Gibbons, 11, a seventh-grader at Franklin Middle School, who operates a nonprofit where she donates her earnings from playing the violin for weddings and other events to the humane society and Harmony School of Music’s outreach orchestra. When she learned about being a recipient of the 14 Under 14 award, she researched Kids First and emailed Schulz saying she would like to be a social justice lawyer someday.
- Martha Mugisha, 9, a fourth-grader at Hoover Community School, who is a “peacemaker” in her classroom, her teachers say. She solves conflicts between peers with kindness and “a sense of humor” and models how to respectfully disagree, Schulz said. She inspires other students in the English Language Learning program to set high goals for themselves.
- KaMariana Smith, 10, a fifth-grader at Cedar River Academy, who is a peer model for students with autism at her school. She reads to them, helps them with their work and attends field trips as a peer helper. She advocates for other people’s needs and isn’t afraid to speak up.
- Kaiya Tate, 10, a fourth-grader at Grant Wood Elementary School, who raised over $100 for the Grant Wood Fun Run by volunteering at a barbershop where her dad works sweeping up hair for tips. The run is a fundraiser for the school’s parent-teacher association. Tate is a boxer, approaches challenges with a positive attitude, and is always ready to help out a peer.
- Ella Waynawhere, 13, a seventh-grader at Wilson Middle School, who sought to educate her peers “with kindness” after another student used a racial slur, Schulz said. Waynawhere is a leader who uses her experience as an immigrant to uplift others. She came to the U.S. from Liberia when she was 5 or 6 and is not afraid to have conversations about social justice.
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