How these Louisa students are spreading the message of kindness in the NFL

Posted at 11:38 PM, Dec 22, 2022
and last updated 2022-12-22 23:38:45-05

LOUISA COUNTY, Va. -- Elysa Harris is admittedly not a football fan.

She is the reigning teacher of the year at Jouett Elementary School in Louisa County and her art room has become a place of inspiration where even she can be surprised by what her students create.

"Sometimes, your final product turns out exactly how you imagine it and sometimes it's different and it's better. That's the cool thing about art," Harris said.

Their latest canvas was one of their most unique. 10 of her students, from kindergarten all the way to the senior class, were tasked with designing images to fit onto a football cleat with the school's motto of #kindness as their primary theme.

"They created a pencil sketch design of what they thought kindness meant or looked like to them. From this design, they drew it onto the shoe and now are painting in the design," Harris said.

"It's so important to look out for each other, no matter who you are or where you're from. It's just important to always know that someone is by your side," Doug Straley, Lousia Schools' superintendent, said.

Louisa schools adopted the motto several years ago and each day, teachers and staff can see tangible results from its message. It's something that has resonated throughout the system.

"I see kids reminding other kids as well if they're not doing something that's kind, they'll say, hey, what about #kindness? Remember what our goal is here? We're all in this together," Harris said.

"Every little thing that we can do as far as being kind to one another to be able to make this world a better place is what we need to be moving forward with," Brandon Smith said.

Smith remembers his days at Louisa well. He went on to play college football at Penn State and is now a rookie with the Carolina Panthers.

This past weekend, the NFL celebrated its seventh annual "My Cause, My Cleats" campaign where hundreds of players wore specially designed shoes representing personal causes and generating awareness.

Smith knew exactly what he wanted his message to be.

"Having this type of subject that I was also a part of when I was in high school, it's a no-brainer to go ahead and support them and give back to my community. The least I can do is wear these cleats and give those kids an opportunity to show themselves through those cleats to promote kindness and different things like that," Smith said.

"We're all one team here. Team LCPS. That was something Brandon and he remembered being part of Louisa County Public Schools. there was a team mentality, a family mentality," Straley said.

However, the design and illustration of the shoes were not easy tasks. Harris chose her best artists, no matter their age, to show exactly what kindness meant to them. Two of the last students to take part were Minny and Ethan.

"It is very difficult. Both of them are very detail oriented. That has a lot to do with making sure that the design not only looks good but is small enough to fit in that space," Harris said.

The finished product was presented to the school board before being sent to Charlotte and was another example of how kindness continues to bring Louisa students together and make their teachers proud of their efforts.

"To have a young man who is so successful and playing in the NFL and is such a great person to say hey, I haven't forgotten my roots. I want to give back to my community. This is my cause with my cleats," Straley said.

"Louisa is a special place and it has a special place in my heart. It's not like any other big city. It's in the country. Everybody's close-knit and really, the amount of opportunities for the youth should be greater than what it is," Smith said.