NEW ULM - Throughout January, students from all classes at Jefferson Elementary School were involved in a project to "spread kindness" around the community.
The idea came from cultural literacy teacher Jan Keaveny.
State education officials are emphasizing initiatives in schools to teach awareness of bullying, Keaveny explains.
Students at Jefferson Elementary School created posters, cards and other projects as part of learning how to act kindly, in a special project during January.
"I thought we should start out with the positive, learning how to be kind, 'being a buddy, not a bully,' and then move on to the anti-bullying piece," Keaveny explains.
Keaveny focused on teaching students how to identify, choose and practice positive behaviors, by challenging each classroom to decide on, and implement, its own kindness project.
The idea kindled and unleashed the students' imaginations. Some created cards - for patients in hospitals, residents in assisted living facilities, firefighters, police, veterinarians. Others wrote surprise letters or notes to relatives. Students also collected toys for children in need; created books or bookmarks for the library; made blankets for children in accidents or for the ambulance. One class created posters cheering the Eagles hockey team; another made posters to encourage people to exercise, to be posted at Vogel Arena; yet another brought flowers for staff. Two classes made their own videos - one on playground safety and on ice fishing safety. The Humane Society and the Food Shelf also received signs of appreciation from students. One class even flew balloons, remembering loved ones in Heaven.
The experience was "joyful" for students, their teachers and the recipients of their kindness, noted Keaveny.
The follow-through piece - when students delivered their projects - to a nurse, or a fire fighter, or the hockey team, in just some examples - was especially satisfying, and made the projects even more meaningful, says Keaveny.
As part of the initiative, Keaveny also distributed "kindness sheets" for the students to take home, for recording acts of kindness.
This part of the project has involved families, making them aware of and eager to accomplish acts of kindness.
The goal is to create a school record of 1,000 acts of kindness, observed Keaveny.
She would like to show a video she created, summing up the projects, to the school board and perhaps show it to other schools via YouTube.
In February, having built a foundation of understanding of kindness, she plans to address issues of bullying in her classes.
Once the children are confident in their understanding of what it is like to act kindly, it would be easier to identify unacceptable behaviors and responses; to "notice what is wrong and choose to do what is right," notes Keaveny.