Kindness is not only embedded in our children as they live the MPA Way – “Be Kind and Do Your Best,” it is rooted in our curriculum. Because of our emphasis on teaching the whole child, as educators we believe that fostering social and emotional development is just as important as the academics. From the very first moments students enter through our doors, to our recent celebration of Random Acts of Kindness Week, teachers implant concepts of kindness and friendship on a regular basis.
In addition to weekly Character Education classes taught by Jennifer Stec, our Wellness Counselor, classroom teachers instill messages of kindness and humanity. Our three-year-old preschoolers are recognized daily for their kind acts with heart stamps or stickers from Miss Bridget. They proudly add a heart to their Kindness Tree for good deeds. Students in Miss Betsey’s room and Ms. Misulonas’ room dub themselves as “Bucket Fillers,” adding pompoms to a container for each kind act or display of friendship. In Ms. Davis’ room you will find a “Warm and Fuzzy” jar from which students earn a fuzzy puff ball every time they do something that makes their hearts feel warm and fuzzy. All Early Childhood classrooms coordinate holidays such as Thanksgiving and Christmas with notions of giving thanks for family and friends. First grade classroom libraries hold countless picture books with themes of kindness and good character, such as the Berenstain Bear collection emphasizing manners, respect, and telling the truth. The children love reading and journaling about experiences they have had similar to the characters’ trials and tribulations.
This year, second grade began with a reading unit on kindness and a social studies unit on citizenship. Stories provided wonderful cross-curricular connections and students quickly internalized messages such as kindness is contagious; actions of one person can make a difference; kindness is a two-way street; and, the importance of becoming contributing members of a community. Students in Mrs. Arnold’s room make time for positive tattling sessions where students “tell on their classmates” for being kind, helpful, or supportive. My second graders create “Happy-grams” for each other. During a third grade reading unit on kindness, Mrs. Schmidt’s students discussed what qualities they look for in friends and to treat others how they wish to be treated. Characters in the novel Charlotte’s Web helped illustrate empathy, and showed how true friends take care of one another and stand up for each other, even when it may not be the popular choice. Themes of kindness, friendship, and compassion in many fourth grade novels, including The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, Bridge to Terabithia, and Maniac McGee, prompted thought-provoking discussions. Novels read in fourth and fifth grade parallel social studies courses in Regions of the United States and World Geography triggered discussions of global friendships, tolerance, and acceptance. The fifth graders’ summer read, Wonder, set the tone and themes for the school year: friendship, family, kindness, acceptance, and courage. Students learned about the craniofacial abnormality that the main character, Auggie, has in the book. They discussed and defined the difference between sympathy and empathy. The students wrote a precept, reflected on its meaning, and use it as an internal guide.
Even though we model and teach our students to follow The MPA Way every day, as a Lower School we initiated Random Acts of Kindness during our January Service Day to add to our daily teachings. A random act of kindness is a simple act which brightens someone’s day. It can be something significant, like donating items to a charity, something smaller such as holding a door open for someone, or simply saying thank you. It can be planned in advance or happen spontaneously. Our goal was to re-energize our daily efforts with messages from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and inspire the children to follow Dr. King’s dream, today and every day.
The second week in February is Random Acts of Kindness Week and the Lower School student body celebrated with daily activities, quotes, and good deeds. During Manners Monday, students were encouraged and praised to use their best manners. Hundreds of notes poured from classroom writing centers and Appreciation Stations on Thankful Tuesday, as students thanked adults in their lives. Helping hands were in abundance both at home and in school on Wednesday’s focus, “What Can I Do To Help?” Throughout Thoughtful Thursday, students found countless ways to lift someone’s spirits. Friendship Friday fostered new friendships as students sat at tables in the dining hall by their birthday month rather than assigned tables.
Many classrooms have various positive incentives or rewards for good character. As students accumulate tallies for cooperative tables, marbles for positive actions, and tickets or “Caught Being Kind Cards,” they earn good citizen celebrations or prizes during Marble Parties, Prize Day or a trip to “The Store.” Posters and other visual displays of good deeds, such as trees with paper hearts, buckets, paper chains, or paper dolls adorn classroom walls. However, the greatest testament to our efforts is witnessing the culture of kindness we see in our student body. The evidence of our year-long emphasis on fostering a positive school environment and promoting the MPA Way is in the character of our students.
By Liz Raser
Mrs. Raser teaches second grade and is our Assistant Lower School Principal and the Curriculum Leader for the Elementary Team.