Assignment: Education - Compassion Project

La Crosse School District Launches Project to Promote Kindness

LA CROSSE, WI (WKBT) - "I love drawing birds," said Sophia McGaff, Lincoln Middle School 6th grader.

Art class is one of McGaff's favorite classes.

"I'm just practicing designs for like the head and wings," said McGaff.

With every pencil line she's getting closer to the inspiration behind this piece of art.

"I chose my friend and I," said McGaff. "We used to be really really similar. We both really liked to draw a lot. And then she sort of got into acting and I got into ballet and we sort of got really different."

But their differences are something Sophia wants to celebrate.

"I'm hoping people see that to be friends you don't have to be the exact same thing," said McGaff. "You can be totally different and still get along really, really well."

Sophia is planning to add this message to the 6,000 other messages being created by almost every student in the La Crosse School District. It's part of a mission known as The Compassion Project.

"It's going to be something that could change La Crosse," said Bethany Nugent, Lincoln Middle School art teacher.


Nugent is Sophia's 6th grade art teacher. Nugent started rolling out the Compassion Project  in her art classes this Fall.

"Instead of saying don't bully, we're saying be compassionate," said Nugent.

The project has students thinking, talking and creating visual messages of kindness.

"When asked to draw a concept like compassion it makes you pause," said Tim Riley, La Crosse Public Education Foundation executive director. "How would you do it? What does compassion mean to you?"

The fundraising organization teamed up with art teachers in the school district to create this compassion-themed art project.

"We started out with a discussion about compassion; not even thinking about the art side of it yet; not even introducing what the project was to the students," said Nugent.

After having a colorful discussion on what compassion means, students like Sophia are turning their thoughts into a piece of art.

"I'm nervous," said McGaff.

"How am I going to take this abstract concept of kindness and compassion and alliviate suffering, and put it into a 6 inch by 6 inch canvas," said Riley.

"I've been telling them that it's not just about what you put into the art. It's also about what other people take away from it," said Nugent.

Words that translate into a meaningful picture for this artist as she trys to paint a meaningful picture for the community. Because Sophia knows this simple art project could provide clarity for an entire community.

"Business leaders are also picking up the question what is compassion? How am I compassionate? How is this community compassionate? How do we define ourslves as a collective community as a compassionate community," said Riley. "That is very important to the process. It really is more than an art project."

"If there was compassion and everybody showed it there would be no bullying," said  McGaff.

The school district is going to show it this Spring when all 6,000 pieces of artwork will be put on display at the Pump House Regional Arts Center.

"Every wall space is going to be covered, said Riley. "It really is a grand mosaic of compassion."

So by thinking outside the box and onto this canvas students are learning about the art of compassion. 

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