Emphasizing kindness for the holidays

Pinedale Elelmentary School courtesy photo Third-grade students show off their ties for ‘Tied Together by Kindness’ day on Dec. 18, part of the nationwide Great Kindness Challenge at Pinedale Elementary School from Dec. 10 to Dec. 21. Pictured are third-grade teacher Andrea James, special education paraprofessional Kathy Rouse and third-grade teacher Lisa Terrell.

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

added.

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

school.

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

friends.

“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

one.

“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

Mitchell said.

“We only met a couple of times,” said Currah.

“But everyone took their part and things

came together.”

“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

table.

“We encouraged students to go out of their

comfort zone,” Dauwen said. “We really

wanted to expand their definition of what everyday

kindness is.”

“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


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