A rather large lesson was learned last week at Sierra View Elementary School and it had nothing to do with scholastic or physical ability.
The week of Jan. 22 to Jan. 26, students as well as staff at the elementary school participated in “The Great Kindness Challenge.” The challenge is described on its website as “a proactive and positive bullying prevention initiative that improves school climate and increases student engagement.”
The idea to observe the week locally was first posed to the staff in late December by Vice Principal Jeff Aprile. According to fifth grade teachers Kim Bianchi, Stacy Graham and Judy Alvey, they were all in from Day One and much to their delight, so too was the entire Sierra View staff.
Preparing the students for the week-long event began with school Librarian Gwen Schmitt, two weeks prior to the kick-off of the actual kindness week. During their library time a short information video was shown, crafts focusing on kindness were hosted and engagement in discussion on ways to show kindness were pieces of student preparation for the inaugural campus event.
“We started the week with the staff members out and about greeting the kids when they came onto the campus,” Alvey said.
A simple act of acknowledgement that first day, which brought noticeable difference in the students to many of the teachers.
“Personally, I think I see more kids smiling in the morning,” Graham said of the positive effects of the school staff acknowledging the students.
The proactive modeling from the school staff was only the beginning to the positive impact of the week’s events. Each student was provided with a check list of 50 random acts of kindness and encouraged to try and complete it by week’s end. Simple yet impactful things such as: complimenting five people, make a kind poster for cafeteria helpers, say thank you to a crossing guard, make a new friend or step up for someone in need.
“I probably had nine kids make posters,” Graham said, noting that once they were hung, it inspired other students to follow suit. Graham also acknowledged the week’s events as a great equalizer for both staff as well as students. Being kind did not require a college degree, monetary means or an above average IQ to be a participant.
“I think our kids are amazing to begin with,” Graham said. “They didn’t recognize that they do this anyway. The challenge reinforces the polite behavior and demonstrated they don’t do these things because they’re told to, they do it because it’s kind.”
At the conclusion of the week, students were posed with the question, “Record how you have colored someone’s world this week?” and were encouraged to share answers in a padlet format for others to see.
Reflections ran the gamut from helping their parents at home, complimenting friends, assisting their teachers and engaging with new students on the playground.
“I think we get so caught up in teaching,” Bianchi shared. “Just to stop and have that (kindness) conversation with the kids and to hear what they have to say. Even as a teacher it makes us stop and think, Wow. We’ve got some really great kids with some really great hearts and big ideas.”
And big ideas are exactly what they’ll tap into as they prepare to bring the program back to the students for a second year in 2019.
“I think it turned out really well,” Bianchi said of the inaugural year, “and I look forward to building upon it.”