Kindergarten students at Whiteside Elementary School in Belleville were captivated as Belleville East High School senior Kiersten Dey read them "Hey, Little Ant" -- a book by Phillip M. Hoose that poses the question of whether a boy should squish an ant.
Kiersten and Rico Walker, a freshman at Belleville East, turned the book into a lesson on bullying. "The kid is kind of bullying the ant," Kiersten said.
"If someone is different than you are you supposed to judge them?" she asked the 20 students in Debbie Gain's kindergarten class.
"No," the children said in unison.
"Judging is bad," Kiersten said. "It's like bullying."
Kindergartner Noah Utrera, 5, said he learned not to kill an ant. "When you see an ant, don't squish it, because it's a good thing. It's part of nature," he said.
Classmate Jackson Kloever, 6, said he also learned not to harm an ant. "It didn't do anything to me," he said.
Kiersten, Rico and 16 other Belleville East students -- all members of the BASIC Youth Board -- visit elementary and junior high students each year and teach character education lessons as do BASIC members from Belleville West and Althoff Catholic high schools.
WHAT IS BASIC?
BASIC, which stands for Belleville Achieves Strength in Character, is an initiative started nearly a decade ago as a cooperative effort between the city and local schools. It includes an adult board as well as a youth board.
The BASIC youth board brings a dozen or so students from each Belleville high school -- East, West and Althoff -- together every month in an effort to make the community a better place.
"These kids who are leaders at our schools learn to come together and work together," said Kathy Schaefer, an Althoff guidance counselor, who serves as a moderator for the BASIC Youth Board.
The youth board members not only serve as mentors and role models to younger students, but donate their time and fund raise for local nonprofit organizations.
Near the end of each school year, the youth board holds a Teeter Totter Athon. This year's event on May 9 will mark the fifth fundraiser event, and the money raised will be donated to five local nonprofit organizations: Don Bosco Center in East St. Louis, LINC Inc. in Belleville, the Violence Prevention Center in Belleville, Interfaith Food Pantry/Project Compassion in Belleville and Eden's Army in Belleville.
Belleville West social studies teacher Molly Hepp, who also serves as a moderator, said the BASIC Youth Board allows "our students to connect with the city of Belleville."
'MAKING A DIFFERENCE'
BASIC member Megan Boyles, 17, a Belleville East senior, said her favorite community service project BASIC does is helping adults with disabilities with their Christmas shopping.
"It's the best experience in the world," Megan said. "You really feel like you're making a difference."
Being a part of BASIC has helped Megan realize anyone can make their community a better place.
Belleville West senior Brandon Herling, 17, said he likes working with students from neighboring high schools.
"It's nice to have that connection between the three (high) schools (in Belleville)," he said. "I enjoy being together with everyone and discussing things that need to be addressed within our schools and the younger schools."
Belleville West senior Ellie Hass, 17, said she enjoys the annual Teeter Totter Athon. "It's something not many people get to do," she said. "It's so different. It's a great way for all of us at three schools to come together and raise money for our hometown."
"It helps us to really connect as different schools," Althoff senior Aaron Smith said of the BASIC Youth Board.
Belleville West senior Haley Procasky, 17, said she benefited from her four years on the BASIC Youth Board.
"I feel like a learned a lot from it," she said. "While we are teaching them (younger students), I learn myself."
Althoff senior Savannah Ames, 18, described being a part of the BASIC Youth Board as a "great experience." She said she has met "really good friends" and enjoyed "reaching out to the entire community" and helping everyone from youngsters to elderly residents.
"A lot of our kids really take to heart what they learn in BASIC," Hepp said. "The students are really impacted by being connected to the community."
"They learn they can have a voice," said Crystal Nesbit, a special education teacher at East, who is one of the moderators of the BASIC Youth Board.
HOW TO HELP
If you want to donate to the Teeter Totter Athon, you can make checks to BASIC Youth Board and send them to: BASIC Initiative, 512 W. Main St., Belleville, IL, 62220; ATTN: Teeter Totter Athon.
Contact reporter Jamie Forsythe at 239-2562 or firstname.lastname@example.org.