When Marilyn Hissong, superintendent of East Allen County Schools, invited students and staffers to participate in the Middle School Kindness Challenge, she didn't expect it to end with a celebration complete with glittering gold and silver confetti.
She sought to add more kindness to the world, not accolades.
Yet recognition is what two EACS buildings received Tuesday. New Haven Middle School and Southwick Elementary School were among 10 national finalists in the most recent challenge cycle, during which nearly 600 schools participated.
“You all are national leaders in kindness,” Daniel O'Donnell, director of the Middle School Kindness Challenge, told students during an assembly at New Haven High School.
He described New Haven Middle and Southwick Elementary as the 2019 champion schools.
Each building received $1,000 in Donors Choose credit to be used toward purchasing materials to continue fostering kindness in their school community, according to a news release.
More than 2,000 schools have registered for the Kindness Challenge since it launched in 2017. The effort was created in response to bullying and intolerance, O'Donnell said.
Tuesday's honorees stood out because their school culture appeared to be transformed, he said.
This was East Allen's first year participating. O'Donnell said it is the only district of its size to have all its eligible schools involved.
It's making a difference. One principal has reported a nearly 50 percent drop in bullying incidents, Hissong said. She said complete statistics will be available at the end of the academic year.
Hissong brought the concept to EACS after hearing a North Carolina educator tout it at a national education conference. Schools quickly exceeded her goal of having one grade level from each building participate, she said, adding that principals are eager to continue the effort next year.
Schools had 30 days to complete the challenge, which asked participants to conduct four of more than 30 lessons provided. Many in the district exceeded the minimum requirements, Hissong said.
Lessons fell under four categories – cyber kindness, peer relationships, positive mindsets and student empathy. Suggested activities ranged from 5 to 45 minutes in length and addressed such skills and topics as active listening, gratitude and ways to promote healthy relationships online.
With grades K-12 participating, Hissong said, activities were adapted to be age-appropriate.
“Kindness is just not a middle school thing,” she said.
Diamond Robinson, principal of Southwick, agreed.
“You are never too young to be kind,” Robinson said.
Chad Houser, principal of New Haven Middle, described the recognition as a tremendous event for the school.
“I couldn't be prouder,” he said.
Hissong told the students she is humbled by their accomplishments and said staffers in all departments also deserve credit because the district “needed everyone to make this happen.”
She is grateful that East Allen embraced the task.
“I feel like we're losing some of the kindness in our world these days,” Hissong said, “and you have brought a big, huge piece of that back.”