LEO-CEDARVILLE – Working in small groups Tuesday, Michel Mellady's fourth-graders defined respect as other Leo Elementary School classes pledged to be fearless and kind – exercises that kicked off a districtwide kindness challenge.
Superintendent Marilyn Hissong brought the concept to East Allen County Schools after hearing a North Carolina educator tout it at a national education conference. It's called the Middle School Kindness Challenge but can be tweaked for elementary and high school students.
“We can all use a little kindness,” Hissong said while visiting Leo, the first East Allen school to begin the program.
Launched last August, the challenge has attracted more than 1,200 schools nationwide. In Indiana, 19 districts have participated, and it appears EACS is the first to register in the northeast region, according to statistics Hissong shared.
Schools have 30 days to complete the challenge, which asks participants to conduct four of the 32 lessons provided. East Allen schools are encouraged to exceed the minimum requirements and continue kindness activities throughout the year, Hissong said.
Lessons fall under four categories – cyber kindness, peer relationships, positive mindsets and student empathy. Suggested activities range from five to 45 minutes and address such skills and topics as active listening, gratitude and ways to promote healthy relationships online.
The exercises should help develop well-rounded students equipped with soft skills employers desire, Hissong said.
In a sixth-grade classroom, Principal William Diehl watched as students used tablets to find images illustrating principles of the pledge to be fearless and kind.
Their seating arrangements – chairs around tables – underscore the importance of having students get along, Diehl said. He added the clusters often foster “a little support system.”
Hissong looks forward to seeing how the challenge affects schools. Discipline referrals, along with educators' observations, should provide insight, she said.
She already foresees the program – which was free to join – continuing after this school year, she said.
“Kindness is free,” Hissong said, “but yet it pays huge dividends.”