PINEDALE – The weeks before holiday
break are a busy time for schools. Calendars
quickly fill with special Christmas programs
and concerts, athletic events, classroom parties
and extra assignments and paperwork to mark
the end of the semester.
A group of teachers at Pinedale Elementary
School made time this year to emphasize
something that can get lost in all of the hustle
and bustle – kindness.
“In everybody’s life, there is a lot going
on,” said Brooke Dauwen, a special education
teacher at the elementary school. “We’re especially
busy with the holidays. We decided to
come up with a way to help everyone be kind
to each other, to broaden what Christmas encompasses.”
Dauwen is part of a team of teachers and
staff at Pinedale Elementary School known as
the “Monkey Mob,” one of six groups tasked
with planning a theme and activities each
month for the students, said Principal Greg
Legerski. The Monkey Mob happened to draw
the month of December.
While brainstorming for ideas, fifth-grade
teacher Emily Hittle told the group about
something called the “Great Kindness Challenge”
that she found online. The Great Kindness
Challenge is an initiative developed by the
nonprofit organization Kids for Peace to foster
positivity and respect in schools.
Kids for Peace founder Jill McManigal
started the initiative at several schools in California
in 2011. The Great Kindness Challenge
has now spread to almost 20,000 schools in
more than over 100 countries.
Students are challenged to complete 50
“grade appropriate” acts of kindness on a
checklist, said kindergarten teacher Tamara
Currah. Once the checklist is completed, students
receive a bracelet and get to put their
handprint on a sign hanging in the hall, Currah
Pinedale Elementary School also conducted
a “pep rally” to kick off the Great Kindness
Challenge, said special education paraprofessional
Dawn Mitchell. Students participated in
school spirit days too, like “Tied Together for
Kindness,” where students got to wear ties to
Staff and students received the kindness
checklists. For two weeks, teachers emphasized
kindness in their classrooms by modeling
behaviors on the checklist, second-grade
teacher Allison Hagerott said.
“It doesn’t matter how old you are when it
comes to learning to be kind,” said special education
paraprofessional Kathy Rouse.
Each teacher and staff member picked out
specific items from the list to work on with
their students. First-grade teacher MaKayla
Reed said that her students spent time learning
how to use kind language and eye contact
to give a genuine smile to 25 different people.
Hagerott’s second-graders decorated five
hearts with kind messages that they gave to
“I loved watching their faces light up when
they received a heart,” she said.
Mitchell’s tutoring students wrote kind
letters by hand that they slipped into another
student’s backpack. Currah’s kindergarteners
learned about compliments and how to give
“The kids were very complimentary on the
playground,” said Rouse. “It was really sweet.”
The makeup of the Monkey Mob and the
other planning teams are randomly chosen so
that teachers have the opportunity to work with
staff members that they do not see on a regular
basis, Legerski said.
“We planned the kindness initiative as a
community,” said Reed. “This process brings
all perspectives from different grade levels together.”
The team was not forthcoming on how they
got the name “Monkey Mob,” however.
“Someone else took the unicorns,” was all
“We only met a couple of times,” said Currah.
“But everyone took their part and things
“Many hands make light work,” said Mitchell.
Teachers and staff extended the Great Kindness
Challenge into the broader community.
Mitchell encouraged her students to exhibit
kind behaviors, such as picking up trash inside
and outside of the classroom. Teachers also
sent letters to families to encourage kindness
at home, Currah said.
Defining kindness by a single word or concept
is not easy. The group of teachers and staff
all brought diverse ideas on the subject to the
“We encouraged students to go out of their
comfort zone,” Dauwen said. “We really
wanted to expand their definition of what everyday
“There is an anti-bullying aspect to the
challenge,” Mitchell said. “The initiative was
a great form of positive reinforcement and an
alternative to preaching at the kids about bullying
and what not to do all the time. This really
helped get back our sense of togetherness.”
“Giving the gift of kindness is something
that you can do anytime,” Currah said. n