New vibe on Concordia Elementary campus: ‘Dude, be nice!’

  • A student rides past a sign on the campus of Concordia Elementary School in San Clemente on Friday, February 9, 2018, as it concludes a week-long student-driven activity called “Dude, Be Nice!” with a morning assembly honoring the school’s office manager Amy Fickling. Most every student wore their “Dude, Be Nice!” tee shirts to school and made signs honoring Fickling. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    A student rides past a sign on the campus of Concordia Elementary School in San Clemente on Friday, February 9, 2018, as it concludes a week-long student-driven activity called “Dude, Be Nice!” with a morning assembly honoring the school’s office manager Amy Fickling. Most every student wore their “Dude, Be Nice!” tee shirts to school and made signs honoring Fickling. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Cameron Dorn, a third grade student at Concordia Elementary School in San Clemente, holds a sign honoring Amy Fickling, office manager at the school, during a morning assembly which concludes a week-long student-driven activity called “Dude, Be Nice!” on Friday, February 9, 2018. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    Cameron Dorn, a third grade student at Concordia Elementary School in San Clemente, holds a sign honoring Amy Fickling, office manager at the school, during a morning assembly which concludes a week-long student-driven activity called “Dude, Be Nice!” on Friday, February 9, 2018. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Amy Fickling, office manager at Concordia Elementary School in San Clemente, makes her way through a tunnel of students and teachers as she is honored during a morning assembly which concluded a week-long student-driven activity called “Dude, Be Nice!” on Friday, February 9, 2018. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    Amy Fickling, office manager at Concordia Elementary School in San Clemente, makes her way through a tunnel of students and teachers as she is honored during a morning assembly which concluded a week-long student-driven activity called “Dude, Be Nice!” on Friday, February 9, 2018. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Amy Fickling, office manager at Concordia Elementary School in San Clemente, laughs as she is honored during a morning assembly which concludes a week-long student-driven activity called “Dude, Be Nice!” on Friday, February 9, 2018. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    Amy Fickling, office manager at Concordia Elementary School in San Clemente, laughs as she is honored during a morning assembly which concludes a week-long student-driven activity called “Dude, Be Nice!” on Friday, February 9, 2018. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Students wear their “Dude, Be Nice!” tee shirts as they gather for a morning assembly honoring the school’s office manager Amy Fickling at Concordia Elementary School in San Clemente on Friday, February 9, 2018. It concludes a week-long student-driven activity called “Dude, Be Nice!” (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    Students wear their “Dude, Be Nice!” tee shirts as they gather for a morning assembly honoring the school’s office manager Amy Fickling at Concordia Elementary School in San Clemente on Friday, February 9, 2018. It concludes a week-long student-driven activity called “Dude, Be Nice!” (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Signs on buildings around the campus of Concordia Elementary School in San Clemente on Friday, February 9, 2018, as it concludes a week-long student-driven activity called “Dude, Be Nice!” with a morning assembly honoring the school’s office manager Amy Fickling. Most every student wore their “Dude, Be Nice!” tee shirts to school and made signs honoring Fickling. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    Signs on buildings around the campus of Concordia Elementary School in San Clemente on Friday, February 9, 2018, as it concludes a week-long student-driven activity called “Dude, Be Nice!” with a morning assembly honoring the school’s office manager Amy Fickling. Most every student wore their “Dude, Be Nice!” tee shirts to school and made signs honoring Fickling. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Students hold signs as Amy Fickling, office manager at Concordia Elementary School in San Clemente, makes her way through a tunnel of students and teachers as she is honored during a morning assembly which concludes a week-long student-driven activity called “Dude, Be Nice!” on Friday, February 9, 2018. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    Students hold signs as Amy Fickling, office manager at Concordia Elementary School in San Clemente, makes her way through a tunnel of students and teachers as she is honored during a morning assembly which concludes a week-long student-driven activity called “Dude, Be Nice!” on Friday, February 9, 2018. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Amy Fickling, office manager at Concordia Elementary School in San Clemente, is high-fived as she makes her way through a tunnel of students and teachers as she is honored during a morning assembly which concludes a week-long student-driven activity called “Dude, Be Nice!” on Friday, February 9, 2018. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    Amy Fickling, office manager at Concordia Elementary School in San Clemente, is high-fived as she makes her way through a tunnel of students and teachers as she is honored during a morning assembly which concludes a week-long student-driven activity called “Dude, Be Nice!” on Friday, February 9, 2018. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Amy Fickling, office manager at Concordia Elementary School in San Clemente, is presented flowers by Cole Mostert, 11, the student council president, as she is honored during a morning assembly which concludes a week-long student-driven activity called “Dude, Be Nice!” on Friday, February 9, 2018. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    Amy Fickling, office manager at Concordia Elementary School in San Clemente, is presented flowers by Cole Mostert, 11, the student council president, as she is honored during a morning assembly which concludes a week-long student-driven activity called “Dude, Be Nice!” on Friday, February 9, 2018. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Amy Fickling, left, office manager at Concordia Elementary School in San Clemente, is served breakfast by Haaken Quade, 11, as she is honored during a morning assembly which concludes a week-long student-driven activity called “Dude, Be Nice!” on Friday, February 9, 2018. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    Amy Fickling, left, office manager at Concordia Elementary School in San Clemente, is served breakfast by Haaken Quade, 11, as she is honored during a morning assembly which concludes a week-long student-driven activity called “Dude, Be Nice!” on Friday, February 9, 2018. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Amy Fickling, office manager at Concordia Elementary School in San Clemente, is high-fived as she makes her way through a tunnel of students and teachers as she is honored during a morning assembly which concludes a week-long student-driven activity called “Dude, Be Nice!” on Friday, February 9, 2018. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    Amy Fickling, office manager at Concordia Elementary School in San Clemente, is high-fived as she makes her way through a tunnel of students and teachers as she is honored during a morning assembly which concludes a week-long student-driven activity called “Dude, Be Nice!” on Friday, February 9, 2018. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Amy Fickling, office manager at Concordia Elementary School in San Clemente, is escorted by Cole Mostert, 11, student council president as she is honored during a morning assembly which concludes a week-long student-driven activity called “Dude, Be Nice!” on Friday, February 9, 2018. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    Amy Fickling, office manager at Concordia Elementary School in San Clemente, is escorted by Cole Mostert, 11, student council president as she is honored during a morning assembly which concludes a week-long student-driven activity called “Dude, Be Nice!” on Friday, February 9, 2018. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Amy Fickling, second from right, office manager at Concordia Elementary School in San Clemente, leads the school in the Pledge of Allegiance as she is honored during a morning assembly which concludes a week-long student-driven activity called “Dude, Be Nice!” on Friday, February 9, 2018. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    Amy Fickling, second from right, office manager at Concordia Elementary School in San Clemente, leads the school in the Pledge of Allegiance as she is honored during a morning assembly which concludes a week-long student-driven activity called “Dude, Be Nice!” on Friday, February 9, 2018. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)

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Rosie Eckert, 10, can attest that it pays to think big and it pays to be nice.

Her school, Concordia Elementary in San Clemente, gets it.

The school and its 600 students united for a weeklong celebration of kindness, gratitude and inclusiveness, inspired by a Whittier apparel company called “Dude. Be Nice.”

The company’s founder, Brent Camalich, is a former San Clemente resident and friend of the Eckert family.

Rosie, a member of the student council, viewed videos of “Dude Be Nice” rallies held at schools across the country.

“It has been this dream of mine,” she said.

When she took the idea to school, the student council didn’t need much convincing. Nor the PTA or the principal.

An idea unfolds

The result was that students put together a weeklong curriculum. It included student assemblies and a day of recognition for campus supervisors who usually aren’t noticed much as they watch over students on the playground at lunch.

“We honored them with cookies and cards and a big presentation at lunch,” said Melanie Garritson, a fifth-grade teacher who is advisor to the student council.

There was Peer Appreciation Day. “We mixed up the kids so they met new people at lunch,” Garritson said. “Nobody ate alone.”

The students did a Spam and beef jerky drive, collecting some 100 cans and packets to donate to a Marine Corps battalion about to leave Camp Pendleton on deployment.

Principal Rob McKane described the Marines as “our neighbors.”

On the last day of the week, Friday, Feb. 9, the school held a rally, having picked out one staff member they agreed is “the heart and soul of Concordia.”

The students showered Amy Fickling with love, testimonials and gifts, including a pancake breakfast they prepared for her family, who made a surprise appearance.

Solidarity for a classmate

The biggest event of Dude Be Nice Week wasn’t even planned. On Friday, Feb. 2, when the week’s activities already were set, school officials were saddened to learn that Chase Walters, a 10-year-old student who has battled leukemia since kindergarten and had been in remission, would have to return to treatment.

Students and parents mobilized over the weekend. On Monday, Chase’s final day of school, the roadway onto campus was plastered solid with posters offering love and encouragement as Chase arrived, escorted by Sheriff’s deputies and the Orange County Fire Authority.

Mayor Tim Brown was there with a proclamation.

“We just put on a big rally to send Chase off to treatment with the knowledge that he is surrounded by the love and support of the community,” McKane said. “It was a wonderful show of what this community is about.”

McKane said the campus culture already reflected the values that Dude Be Nice Week teaches, so “this was really just a showcase.”

But he was impressed with how student-driven the week was. “I’ve never in my 10 years as an elementary school principal seen anything like this,” he said.

What it all means

“To me,” student council president Cole Mostert, 11, said, “it’s just an amazing way to make everybody be kind and show it, throughout our school.”

“I learned that kindness should be a big part of every person’s life,” said Daniel Beauchaine, 11. “Kindness spreads really fast. If you are kind, then everybody around you will probably be kind too.”

When the student council met to select the heart and soul of Concordia, “no other name came up except Mrs. Fickling,” said Haaken Quade, 11.

She is the office manager and, by all accounts, much, much more.

“Mrs. Fickling knows everyone’s name,” said Kylie Marcisz, 11. “It’s amazing that she knows over 600 students’ names, and many of the parents’ names too. She’s always making everyone’s day great, too. She just cares about everyone.”

The epitome of ‘nice’

Camalich, who said he started his company four years ago in Ventura to build a brand with heart, visited Concordia Elementary two weeks earlier to scout the campus. He said he was hearing positive stories about Mrs. Fickling before he could even reach her desk.

He witnessed her magic as she delicately helped a student who had been “pooped on” by a seagull. Camalich told the story at the ceremony honoring Mrs. Fickling.

“The way that you made him feel, ‘like it’s okay, there’s nothing to be embarrassed of, and it happens to everyone,’ it was truly a testament to you,” Camalich said.

Mrs. Fickling said the Friday show of adulation truly caught her by surprise, “which is shocking, because how could those kids not give it away?”

“It was awesome,” she said.

Spreading the love

Camalich said his company has produced events at about two-dozen schools across the country but hopes that more schools will do what Concordia did, “where they used our brand as a platform and a backbone and really created this ‘own’ experience themselves.”

His company will post a video of the San Clemente event at dudebenice.com.

“We film to show people how to do it,” Camalich said. “Our videos have been seen now by more than 30 million people. We highlight good, positive stories and amazing things happening in communities all over the country.”

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