Stonington school performs thousands of act of kindness in one week

Stonington — Smile at someone. Read to a younger student. Sit with a new group of kids at lunch. Say “thank you” to a bus driver. Entertain someone with a happy dance.

These are just some of the 50 acts of kindness that each of the 430 students at Deans Mill School tried to accomplish this week as the school tackled the Great Kindness Challenge.

“I just love this. It really helps everyone to be kind,” fourth-grader and student senator Avery Gray said Thursday, as she organized relay races for younger students at recess.

“People are saying 'great job' to other students. I see kids being more kind,” fourth-grader Eli Iovino added.

Gray added that a girl came up to her Thursday and said she liked Gray’s blue top hat.

“We don’t usually get too many compliments" from other students, she said.

School Principal Jennifer McCurdy said the message she hopes students get is that it’s not just about performing acts of kindness for one week but adopting “a lifestyle” of being kind to others.

“We hope they can carry on the things they are doing,” she said.

Veteran Deans Mill teacher Kristen Morehouse, along with fellow teachers Amanda Volpe and Daniel Barth, helped a group of 20 student senators organize the kindness activities and integrate them with the school’s spirit week.

Morehouse said the effort is part of the national Great Kindness Challenge which began in 2014 in California and took place across the country this past week. This is the first year Deans Mill has participated. According to the nonprofit organization that runs the event, it involved 10 million students in more than 15,000 schools in more than 90 countries in 2017. That’s more than a half-billion acts of kindness.

Morehouse said the idea was to engage in acts of kindness over the course of the week “to make the school a kinder place for everyone.”

The week began on Monday with a “march of kindness,” in which student senators, staff and officials such as First Selectmen Rob Simmons and police Chief J. Darren Stewart welcomed the students with signs and cheering as they arrived on their buses in the morning. That was followed by an assembly to get the students excited about the program.

While older students were challenged to complete 50 acts of kindness, kindergarten and first-grade students had a dozen, such as lending a pencil to a friend, giving a friend a high-five, making a wish for a child in another country and inviting a new friend to play.

“It’s been very well received. The kids are enjoying it,” Morehouse said, adding that there’s been classroom discussions that kindness is not just about checking items off a list.

“We want it to carry over,” she said.

The student senators helped students practice kindness at recess, make bookmarks with kind messages that were randomly placed in library books, cheered on other students at the relay races and organized an activity where one student began a drawing with a squiggle and another student finished it.

There was also an activity in which students drew cards that randomly assigned them to lunch tables where they got to know other students they might not otherwise have sat with. Morehouse said the student senators came up with the ideas for the activities.

McCurdy said that both students and school staff embraced the challenge and teachers have expanded the effort with special activities in their classrooms.

“And what’s really unique and nice about this is that it’s really been the kids' work,” she said.

As of Thursday afternoon, Iovino said he still had a few acts of kindness left on his checklist to complete by the end of the day Friday.

“But I’m going to try and do them,” he said.

j.wojtas@theday.com

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