Lessons in change

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Program helps Marshdale students find, enact solutions

By Deb Hurley Brobst

Fourth- and fifth-graders at Marshdale Elementary School learned an important lesson Friday: They can make a difference at their school.
The children went through a half-day workshop with representatives from the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation in which they identified problems at the school and created a list of solutions.
The students decided they needed to work on being kinder to each other, treating each other with respect on the playground and in the cafeteria, and keeping the bathrooms clean. They committed to taking action to solve the problems and wrote what they wanted to do on foam-board towers.
For the next several months, they will check off what they have accomplished to solve the problems and inform their peers and teachers, so their actions can be celebrated, said Marilyn Decalo, the foundation’s manager.
The students became problem-solvers because they were empowered to make changes. That is part of the goal of the nonprofit foundation, which is based in Denver. It works with groups of all ages and backgrounds around the country to help make communities better places. Teachers are provided with training, and foundation staff members conduct workshops to help motivate groups to effect change.
Dafna Michaelson, who facilitated the program, asked children to describe a problem solver, and after taking suggestions, she made them realize that all people, no matter what their age, can solve problems.
She had the students write down things they considered to be areas of concern and solutions on sticky notes. The children wrote, for example, that bullying and name-calling should stop, students should pick up trash, and students should play with people who are lonely and ask if there is anything they can do to make someone happy.
“We should include all kids, no matter how different they are,” one student wrote.
Decalo was impressed with how interested the children were and how committed they were to making a difference at their school.
“It created a sense of responsibility in the students for their community,” Decalo said. “It was amazing to watch them come together and realize they could solve these issues.”
Marshdale was receptive to the Random Acts of Kindness program, Decalo said, because the school already works to build a strong sense of community in its students.
The school also is involved in a program called Character Counts, which tries to instill the values of trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring and citizenship. In addition, principal Christie Frost has instituted morning meetings in the classrooms, so students can get to know each other and work out differences.
Decalo said she was so impressed with the Marshdale students’ involvement that she has asked the school to keep in touch with the foundation and become a case study on the foundation’s website.
“We think this community is particularly dedicated to solving these problems,” Decalo said. “They would be able to provide a lot of important information for other teachers and educators to learn from. It would be nice for other teachers to see what others are doing to solve problems and face challenges.”
Decalo and Michaelson are looking forward to see how the students progress with changing the school and how their enthusiasm trickles down to students in other grades.
“We were so pleased to be able to serve Marshdale and those students,” Decalo said. “We will not lose touch with them.”

Contact Deb Hurley Brobst at deb@evergreenco.com or 303-350-1041. Check www.CanyonCourier.com for updates.