Sydney Smith, a Positive Behavior Interventions and Support specialist, hands out ice cream treats to students at the end of the weeklong Great Kindness Challenge at Eatonville Elementary School. (Courtesy photo)
Sydney Smith, a Positive Behavior Interventions and Support specialist, hands out ice cream treats to students at the end of the weeklong Great Kindness Challenge at Eatonville Elementary School. (Courtesy photo)
By Pat Jenkins
The Dispatch
Eatonville Elementary School was an especially nice place for five days in January.
Students went out of their way to say hello and help each other, write thoughtful notes, and do a variety of other pleasantries during the weeklong Great Kindness Challenge.
And to help make the feeling last beyond Jan. 23-27, paper hearts hanging on a tree near the school's entrance had pictures or descriptions of the acts of kindness by students.
The goal of encouraging and reinforcing positive behavior among the school’s 355 pupils came from the nationwide Great Kindness Challenge. The activity was started in 2011 by Kids for Peace, a non-profit organization formed in 2006 by a then-high school student and a former teacher in California to encourage compassion and peace worldwide. More than 5 million students in 60 countries participated in the challenge in 2016, according to the campaign's web site (greatkindnesschallenge.org).
Eatonville Elementary tried it for the first time last month. On Jan. 23 (Monday morning), the challenge kicked off with a half-hour student assembly to explain the project. For the next four days, the children could work on some of the 50 expressions of kindness during their lunch recesses and at home after school. At the end of the week, the students were rewarded with ice cream treats.
According to the school’s counselor, Kelli Bacher, who helped organize it, the project was a success.
“It helped children focus outside of themselves and learn that not only does it make someone else feel better when you are kind to them, it also makes you feel pretty good inside, too,” Bacher said.
Bacher’s guidance lessons for the week focused on being kind, which is part of a message the school also emphasizes through its Positive Behavior Interventions and Support program (PBIS).
“There is a lot of research that supports the use of positive interventions instead of punishments to help all students,” Bacher said.
With that in mind, PBIS specialist Sydney Smith works with groups of students “who might need extra help with friendship or other social skills, and she checks in with students who are working on more positive behaviors in the classroom,” Bacher said.
Smith, who initiated and helped organize the kindness challenge, sets goals with students for improving their behavior and rewards them for meeting those goals.
“We’ve also done a lot of work to make sure we have schoolwide behavioral expectations,” Bacher said. “We teach them and reinforce them if needed --  not only in the classroom, but in the hallways, lunchroom and on the playground. This helps improve the school climate and learning environment for all students.”
That fits the mission of the Great Kindness Challenge, whose proponents say it helps head off bullying and produces other positive vibes at all grade levels by making kindness a habit. Already this year, an estimated 10 million students globally have participated in the challenge, organizers reported.