These are just a few of the random acts of kindness displayed recently by Episcopal Middle School students. While such acts may seem small to some, they truly are worthy of recognition. Think about how you felt the last time someone did something unexpectedly kind for you. Maybe someone opened the door for you when you were struggling with an armload of holiday packages. Or, perhaps a fellow motorist let you over in Baton Rouge traffic. Such a small act can go a long way. In fact, according to research conducted by Jamil Zaki, Assistant Professor of Psychology at Stanford University, that small act of kindness may also inspire you to reciprocate with your own act of kindness. In an article for Scientific American, Professor Zaki says “that kindness itself is contagious.” If kindness is contagious, what better place for it to be fostered than among the next generation of leaders?
Kindness is actively encouraged and fostered in Episcopal Middle School. This focus is year round and not just during the season of giving or a designated week. As students deal with the changes that occur within themselves, their peers and their world, a simple act of kindness can boost a mood, make a day and improve a life. Given this, the division’s Peer Leaders created the Middle School kindness boxes. These three little shoe boxes were glued, labeled and crafted by the students, similar to the boxes used by Lower School students to collect Valentine’s Day cards. Each box was placed in the grade-level social studies classroom, along with slips of paper that students and teachers can use to recognize someone for a good deed.
Counselor Alicia Kelly says the goal is to encourage kindness and recognize it in action. She says developmentally, Middle School students are traditionally focused on themselves, making kindness and concern for others a challenge. However, projects such as the kindness boxes help students think beyond themselves. Kelly also hopes the boxes make it “cool” to be kind, as students earn positive recognition from adults and their peers.
Each month, kind students are publicly recognized during the Middle School morning meeting. Peer Leaders read aloud the most compelling acts of kindness performed. To make a strong impression among the teens, students also receive a candy bag filled with sweet treats in honor of their sweet intentions.
“One of the most important ways we can prepare our students for success and the ‘purposeful lives’ that our mission and ministry statement references is to help them develop empathy, the ability to view life situations from others' perspectives,” says Middle School Division Head Lucy Smith. “Noticing and reinforcing their acts of kindness not only helps to promote empathy in individual students, but also helps all of us as we strive to be a safer, more respectful, and kinder community.”
Smith, along with the Middle School teachers, have actively embraced the theme of kindness this school year. After summer training sessions on student social/emotional learning, Middle School teachers were inspired to make kindness a top priority among sixth, seventh and eighth grade students. The Middle School Honor Code was amended to include a reference to kindness to emphasize its importance. That focus on kindness has now swept through Middle School. For example, you can find kindness reminders on display in the sixth grade science class and kindness themes are found in the books chosen by English teachers. Hopefully, this strong commitment to caring and compassion will have a lasting impact on students as they grow to lead lives of purpose and meaning.
This holiday season and year round, how do you and yours share acts of kindness? Share them in our comments section below. You could inspire others to do the same!