Brooklyn Park, father of two, moves from golf course to classrooms, encouraging kids to be kind

Bryan Skavnak started out as a golf professional after graduating from college in 2000. But the father of two pre-teens from Brooklyn Park quickly realized that competition wasn’t his thing. Kindness was.

Now he takes the lessons learned on the course into the classroom.

Skavnak, 43, is the founder of Be the Nice Kid, a business venture that engages students in storytelling and activities designed to build character, courage and compassion. He meets the children where they are, figuratively and literally, in assemblies, canteens, even during recess. He shares stories from his own childhood as a quiet kid who has been bullied on occasion and his realization after decades of golf that there will always be people who are better, smarter, and cooler.

But everyone can be patient. Honest. Attractive.

While Be The Nice Kid launched around 10 years ago, Skavnak said their message was more urgent than ever, due to the pandemic and the isolation it has created.

“The kids haven’t had a normal school year for a year and a half,” he said. “It’s not normal yet. A lot of kids just don’t know how to interact. We talk about it a lot. You have to think about others. We talk a lot about patience – you’re not going to get this right away.”

Skavnak graduated from St. John’s University in 2000 and became a golf professional in the fall. The author of “Happy Golf Starts Here” also began teaching children golf as part of a recreation program in Plymouth, which he continues to pursue this summer.

The turning point for Skavnak was 2011, when his mother died of lymphoma. “All of a sudden there were things much more important than golf,” he said.

That fall, as his summer golf students were heading back to school, he wrote them a note, “Yes, we had fun this summer, but now you’re going back to school. Be the nice boy through it all. “

He posted a longer quote on his website (bethenicekid.com) sharing this sentiment and didn’t think about it. But the quote “exploded” on Facebook, he said. Suddenly his words were on posters hung in thousands of gyms and classrooms.

“It was weird,” Skavnak said. “This letter kind of started the nice boy revolution.”

After a hiatus from the COVID pandemic in 2020, Skavnak organized 120 virtual assemblies last spring. It is now back in schools in Minnesota and across the country, from California to Texas to Massachusetts. For the past few weeks he has been in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

He still wears a mask in many settings, only removing it to speak.

It brings its free and paid lectures to students from kindergarten to college, modifying its content according to their varying attention spans. A favorite story overall, however, is “how I lost to a tic tac toe chicken,” he said. “He’s the one children always remember.”

Class this one under lessons of humility.

Donna Spingler, a third-grade teacher in Norristown, Pa., Said Skavnak “was exactly what we needed to kick off our school-wide kindness campaign for the 2021-2022 school year.”

She said she spotted Skavnak’s poem “Be the Nice Kid” on social media a few years ago and now recites it with her students every morning. During her visit to the school in September, Skavnak conveyed her message to students in kindergarten to grade 8, she said, “in touch with all of them.”

Over a month later, his students still remember his lessons – “things like, say hello, give a compliment, don’t be a sore loser, always include everyone and try to say nice things to everyone. days.

“He’s a very nice person,” Spingler said, “so people can see he’s what he’s talking about.”

An exciting new project for Skavnak is a book collaboration with Twin Cities illustrator and multimedia artist Wendy Kieffer Shragg; both were introduced by a mutual friend.

Entitled “Be Nice. The End: Simple Wisdom of the Playground Kids”, the coffee table book (meettheplayground kids.com) features Shragg’s images of children paired with Skavnak’s words about kindness, acceptance, courage. , perseverance and more.

Shragg calls the fusion of his images with his words “a perfect match”. Like Skavnak, his work reflects the complexities, and sometimes the pain, of growing up.

“They’re not all happy, smiling,” she said of her illustrations. “Most have a soulful feel. It’s their beauty. There’s something deeper. It’s not just cute kids on a playground.”

She shares Skavnak’s sense of urgency to reach the children as they return to a still uncertain school year.

“This is particularly important information to hear now,” she said. “Do we even remember how to treat each other? How can we recycle ourselves in a way that feels better than before?

“We hope this book can help guide the way.”

Skavnak also hopes his message of kindness resonates.

“I’ve seen it. I’ve seen kids stand and stand and even better kids. They’re more tolerant, more patient.

They are even, he said, “more willing to stand in line”.

Gail Rosenblum • 612-673-7350

@grosenblum

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