Reporting on her visit to Orchard Lake Middle School in Michigan

Melania Trump, in Michigan, Urges Middle Schoolers to ‘Choose Kindness’

WEST BLOOMFIELD TOWNSHIP, Mich. — The first lady, Melania Trump, in another public indication that she may refocus on efforts related to an early promise to combat cyberbullying, visited a middle school here in this Detroit suburb on Monday, and, in between posing for selfies, urged students to treat one another with respect and kindness.

“I encourage you to find a new friend and eat lunch with a new friend,” Mrs. Trump told a group of seventh- and eighth-grade students who had gathered in the cafeteria with their lunchboxes, backpacks and smartphones. “I think it’s very important to choose kindness and compassion.”


Mrs. Trump has ramped up her public appearances in recent weeks, and she has shown that she is willing to travel without her husband, who spent his Monday morning railing against football players kneeling for the national anthem and facing criticism from the widow of a soldier killed in Niger.

The lunchtime visit to Orchard Lake Middle School was meant to lend some attention to “No One Eats Alone,” an initiative intended to teach children inclusion skills, and to acknowledge the “Week of Inclusion,” part of National Bullying Prevention Month, though officials with the groups that started the programs said they did not hear about the trip from the White House.

Mrs. Trump’s plans are unclear as her East Wing staff remains small — nine people work for the first lady, roughly less than half of the number of people who worked for her predecessors. She has also not hired a director of policy, who could help advance her agenda.

Still, the middle schoolers appeared to be more interested in taking selfies than listening to policy details: Lunchtime chatter ceased and shrieking began after Mrs. Trump entered the room with Betsy DeVos, the education secretary.


“Remember,” a school administrator reminded the excited students, “we’re not shoving phones in people’s faces.”

As she strolled around the lunchroom, Mrs. Trump, a Slovenian-born former model, seemed aware of the power of a photograph. She posed for dozens of selfies, shook hands and invited a few particularly shy-looking students to step closer.

Mrs. Trump and Ms. DeVos visited a sixth-grade classroom where students focused on a lesson geared toward emotional learning. There, the first lady helped students sort words into groups — “isolated” went in one word pile, “together” in another — and huddled with the students to ask about their hobbies and offer them advice.

“Don’t try to copy somebody,” Mrs. Trump said to a group of students in a somewhat stilted side conversation. Smiling, she added, “No drugs. No cigarettes.”

According to her aides, the first lady is aware of criticism directed at her bullying prevention efforts, given the president’s proclivity for digital insults. Stephanie Grisham, the first lady’s communications director, said that Mrs. Trump is an “independent woman” who would continue her efforts.

“She’s used to naysayers,” Ms. Grisham said. “And this is not going to be new for her. She’s made a commitment to children in many different areas, and this is one of them.”

Officials at Pacer’s National Bullying Prevention Center, the organization behind National Bullying Prevention Month, said that they were not aware that the first lady was visiting Michigan but have made efforts to reach out to the White House. Paula F. Goldberg, Pacer’s executive director and co-founder, said in an interview that she hoped Mrs. Trump would “continue speaking out about cyberbullying and bullying prevention.”

“That’s a role she could play, and one that is very important,” Ms. Goldberg added.

Laura Talmus, who helped found Beyond Differences, the Bay Area nonprofit that created “No One Eats Alone” in 2012, said she had also not heard from the White House.

“They really have to extend far beyond a one-time appearance at a school,” Ms. Talmus said in an interview. “We just hope that constant care of children all year round, including what they read and hear on social media, and the news and at home at the dinner table will also be something that can be influenced.”

In a statement, Mrs. Trump said the same.

“By our own example, we must teach children to be good stewards of the world they will inherit,” Mrs. Trump said. “We need to remember that they are always watching and listening.”

As she prepares to formally start a platform in the coming months, Mrs. Trump’s recent trips are more like short jaunts that allow her to lend her image to causes without speaking at length in public or traveling too far from the White House. She prefers to arrive home before her 11-year-old son, Barron, returns from school, Ms. Grisham said.

Next week, though, Mrs. Trump will accompany Mr. Trump on a trip to Japan, South Korea, China, Vietnam, the Philippines and Hawaii.