Since Monday, students at Bernadine Sitts and Charles O. Stones intermediate centers have been trying to put kindness into words.
“Kindness is not a feeling, but it is an action that shows people that you care,” one wrote.
“Kindness is caring enough about someone, even if you don’t know them well…” said another.
“There is a voice inside of you that whispers all day long,” read a student’s poem. “‘I feel that this is right for me. I know that this is wrong.’”
As a part of the schools’ Kindness Challenge Week, teachers and staff have pushed several activities to promote greater empathy from students. Faculty and staff wore different colors each day to represent joy, compassion and strength, encouraged students to perform small acts of kindness during the day and held a T-shirt design contest for a new school shirt.
On top of that, students were asked to write either a poem or essay about what kindness means to them, with winners to be selected by several staff members at the end of the week. The poem winners were Bao Nguyen for CSIC and Veronica McCallum for BSIC, and the essay winnerw were Alie Hernandez for CSIC and Sam Jacobs for BSIC.
“A lot of (students) can express themselves verbally, but it’s really hard, sometimes, when they want to do a written assignment. So, we thought if we added in a writing challenge it would help the kids learn how to express themselves about something that hopefully they could have personal experience with,” said Amy Ricks, a teacher on special assignment (TOSA) at both schools.
The contest was not mandatory, but several English classes at the schools made it a requirement, Ricks said.
Fifth-grader Miroslava Cervantes said she wrote about being kind at school. Noah Sanchez said he highlighted acts of kindness he tried to incorporate in his life, like helping others and giving compliments. Rosario Ochoa said kindness was not judging others. Sanchez, Cervantes, Elvis Ortega and Emma Wheeler all talked about how students should not bully each other.
“I kind of feel like people like to be mean to others, but I feel like that’s because they’ve been bullied themselves at some point in their lives. They (know) what it feels like to be bullied, but they still bully others,” Wheeler said.
“Treat others with respect, and in return, you will be respected,” she wrote in her poem. “No one wants to be bullied, so don’t be the bully.”
Wheeler said her teachers had been teaching her to be kind and respectful for years. Cervantes said she learned to be friendly, honest and compassionate from her family.
Jaslene Moncada said she learned kindness was important when she was 4. Suddenly, “out of nowhere,” she had a stepsister, and as the oldest, she had to be more responsible, she said.
Kathryn Ochampaugh and Josh Harbour, CSIC fifth grade communications teachers, said they were surprised by some of their students’ entries. Harbour said several students said kindness was not bullying, showing an unexpected awareness for one of the main reasons staff had dedicated the week to empathy in the first place.
And to Ochampaugh, the poems and essays went further than being kind at home. Kids mentioned they could help at animal shelters or homeless shelters or help an elderly neighbor mow the lawn. In their minds, kindness is aimed outward, she said.
“They have an innate sense, this year, this group of kids, of what’s right and what’s wrong and how to treat people with kindness, but they’re just more conscientious of it this week…” Ochampaugh said. “Somebody had in their poem ‘By doing these things we make the world a kinder, better place.’ That was one of the lines. I was like ‘Yes! They get it!’”
A focus on kindness fits into the CSIC code of conduct teachers try to teach every day, Ochampaugh said. And it can add a layer to lessons, too. As Ochampaugh begins teaching her class about segregated sports and communities, she can show students how much damage a lack of empathy and respect for other people can do, she said.
In the hallways, students and teachers noticed more students smiling or greeting and high-fiving each other, some of the staff’s suggested small acts of kindness.
Jennifer Smith, BSIC fifth grade social studies, science and writing teacher, said the week impacted student behavior and gave teachers a chance to celebrate and model kids who practice kindness every day. Ricks said administrators had noticed a dip in referrals during the week.
Moving forward, David DeLoach, BSIC sixth grade communications teacher, said he hopes the schools continue encouraging the behavior. By fostering a comfortable and safe culture in the classrooms and buildings, one that promotes a sense of family and belonging, teachers can help students better understand and be kind to each other, he said.
“I think one thing that I think we need to do is make sure that it’s not just one week and that we continue to revisit it, continue to make it a year-long thing...” DeLoach said. “I think they all know what it means and what to do. The next step is really practicing doing it and making it a part of their daily routine.”
Contact Amber Friend at firstname.lastname@example.org.