Kindness is a virtue that students and teachers at Marshdale Elementary School and Rocky Mountain Academy of Evergreen have embraced in a big way.
The second- and fourth-graders at Marshdale are pilot-testing a curriculum written by a nonprofit organization called Random Acts of Kindness this year, and are pleased with its success so far. Since all of the teachers have been trained in the organization’s kindness curriculum, kindness is seeping into other grades at the school.
Rocky Mountain Academy also agreed to test the curriculum and decided it was so worthwhile that the kindness curriculum has been infused into every grade level at the school.
Kindness is being defined in the broadest sense of the term: good manners, showing respect, being honest, being nice, helping others.
At Marshdale, students and teachers have received training in instilling kindness, according to principal Christie Frost. Interested parents will receive the training this month.
“The program has created a heightened awareness of how we should treat each other,” Frost said.
Students are taught how to work out their differences and to put themselves in one another’s shoes to understand how others might be feeling. At morning meetings, they talk about the meaning of kindness and how children can act in a kind manner.
Marshdale also has brought kindness into the community by donating to Foothills Animal Shelter and donating Christmas gifts to area families in need in December.
According to parent Theresa Gromko, in lieu of teacher holiday gifts, the fifth-grade classes decided to help area families. The students collected money, bought gifts for nine children and wrapped them. They also signed Christmas cards for the families.
Ten-year-old Macy Clem said she thought the gifts were nice for kids who might not have received presents like she did.
Opportunities to be kind
At Rocky Mountain Academy, fourth-graders in Kimberly Darrington’s class explained how they have opportunities to be kind in their community.
They said they could donate their old clothes to charity, give to food banks, and bring items to the homeless and cookies to their neighbors. They could carry wood and shovel snow.
At home, they say they try to help with chores, walk the dog, tidy up their rooms without expecting money, and be nicer to their siblings.
In their school, they try to stop bullying other students, help a student who is sad and stand up for others. They could be polite when others are talking and treat everyone with respect.
Parent Tonje Williams said she’s noticed a change in her daughter since the Random Acts of Kindness curriculum started.
“She’s definitely more aware of other people’s feelings,” Williams said. “She’s more aware of her classmates.”
Parent Christine Emery said her son now stands up for his friends when others might not be treating them well.
RMAE director Dan Cohen said integrating the program into the school curriculum was a logical step for the school.
“When kindness is integrated day to day, and teachers refer to it often, it creates a context of (behavioral) expectations,” he said.
Marlyn Decalo, education coordinator with Random Acts of Kindness, says the kindness curriculum is easy to integrate into the school day, and pilot-testing the curriculum hopefully will lead to it being implemented districtwide and eventually statewide. The curriculum matches state-mandated learning objectives.
“Our curriculum is not something that is a major re-think in terms of how to teach this,” Decalo said. “It’s meant to be something accessible.”
Decalo says teaching kindness is all about getting children to be empathetic and see what others are going through.
“If children understand that they have the choice to be kind in a circumstance, that empowers them to be able to make better decisions in social conflict or when in a situation where they feel they need to manage an interpersonal relationship,” she said.
For example, bullying has become a major issue in schools nationwide.
“There’s a huge body of evidence on bullying and how it happens to almost everyone,” Decalo said, “yet students still struggle with how to address that. What we look at is the preventative foundation of character that helps a student cope or manage that social conflict.”
Some of Darrington’s fourth-graders were asked to define what kindness meant to them.
Fourth-grader Aliya Janov defined it as: “Giving to people without receiving something in return.”
Fourth-grader Sydney Shackelford added: “If you do something kind for someone, you feel good inside, a good feeling in your heart.”