Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Wiregrass Ranch High School club teaches acts of kindness

Katie Bonti, a student at Wiregrass Ranch High, started a club to boost self-esteem and kindness among fellow students.


Katie Bonti, a student at Wiregrass Ranch High, started a club to boost self-esteem and kindness among fellow students.

When it comes to changing the lives of others, 17-year-old Katie Bonti is starting out small and betting on the ripple effect.

"Who knows what's going on in anyone's day?" she said. "Sometimes you're just having a really bad day. Just one person saying something nice can make a difference, and then maybe you'll say something nice to someone else."

Smiley-face stickers, Post-it notes and a few kind words directed at someone else are the basic ingredients she has scrambled together to initiate a mood-lifting movement at Wiregrass Ranch High School.

SMILE — or "Student Messages Inspiring Lasting Esteem" — is the name of the club Katie founded this year after mulling it over during the summer. Basic etiquette and kindness are often lacking, and she wanted to do something about it. Katie, who is the daughter of principal Ray Bonti, has turned out to be quite the leader in her own right, leading meetings, coming up with icebreaker activities and recruiting close to 40 members who have climbed on board to spread a message of general kindness.

"Everybody's different. Everybody's wonderful in their own way," said Katie, who easily persuaded advanced placement and honors chemistry teacher Nicholas Cuviello to come on as a sponsor for the club. "It's high school so we're an eclectic group and that's good. But I think today, especially with social media, there's a message that it's okay to be mean to other people, that it's okay to be rude."

"It's not," she said. "Everybody matters."

To show them how much, members of SMILE have been handing out smiley face stickers when they see someone on campus committing a random act of kindness and penning compliments to others on Post-it notes that are displayed on a bulletin board outside Cuviello's classroom.

"I think it's a great idea. I like that it's simple," Cuviello said. "I think that any time somebody gives you a compliment it makes you feel better about yourself."

"This isn't a popularity contest, and that's why I monitor the board," said Katie, who during last week's meeting reinforced the idea to members that the ripple effect would only grow if they moved outside their own circle of friends.

"You rock," "I like your shirt," and "You're so smart," were some of the messages directed at individually named students who might pass by the board during their school day. Others were compliments of the random sort.

"Thank you for holding the door for me when I was late," was the note Julie Diaz penned to a student she didn't know.

"I like that anybody could read this note and maybe think it was them and it might make them feel good," Julie said. "I think that self-esteem is something a lot of people lack, especially in high school where things like cutting and bulimia can be a problem. I think random people complimenting you can be uplifting for anybody."

And maybe create a safe haven, too.

"I like telling people that they're smart or nice, especially people who don't treat me like a freak," said Yasmeen Wilson, 17. She said she joined the club because "I thought it would be a nice way to meet nice people. I'm kind of sensitive, so when people are minor-league rude, I really notice it, so I thought maybe here I could escape that."

"I just felt like this would match my personality," added Andy Filgueira, 17. "I've never seen something like this done before. I think her ideas are pretty big — groundbreaking — and I think it's going to have a positive effect."

Wiregrass Ranch High School club teaches acts of kindness 11/01/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 1, 2011 3:46pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Clearwater confronts a new wave of homeless people, many addicted to spice

    Public Safety

    CLEARWATER — Having lived on the streets since 2014, when he said God ordered him to go out and watch over the homeless, Scott Elfstrom has seen new faces brought out by the typical drugs, despair or plain bad luck.

    Clearwater police Sgt. Rodney Johnson talks to a group of homeless people near the Clearwater Police Department. Johnson has worked to decrease the amount of spice being used in the homeless population.
  2. Preservation group's efforts help revitalize Hudson Cemetery

    Human Interest

    HUDSON — Since the 1970s, the area's unhoused could count on Hudson Cemetery as a place to eat, drink and doze. They would crouch behind bushes on the 2 acres — sandwiched between an ABC liquor store and a shopping center — and leave behind beer cans, cigarette butts and rotting clothes. They would …

    Dennis Kingsley, former president of the Hudson Cemetery Preservation Association, looks at recently cleaned headstones at the cemetery. It got a new fence and was cleared of weeds and brush in June.
  3. Adam Putnam
  4. Forecast: Summertime heat, late-day showers soldier on in Tampa Bay


    The summertime pattern of hot temperatures and afternoon showers continues through the second half of the week across Tampa Bay.

    Tampa Bay's 7 day forecast. [WTSP]
  5. Pinellas Park police arrest Dade County fugitive hiding in attic crawl space


    Pinellas Park police arrested a man wanted on charges in Dade County following a standoff in an apartment complex early Thursday morning.