Fifth-grade teacher Matt Greenhoe has never seen “major problems” among his students as they interact with one another. “But we could use a little more kindness in our school,” he said.
While that could be said for most schools — and lots of grown-up work places — Greenhoe’s students have responded to his challenge.
Nearly a dozen of Greenhoe’s fifth-graders at Parker Elementary School in Elk River are wrapping up their first year as founders of the Kindness Club. The club meets weekly to discuss new ways to bring happiness to those around them.
Walk the halls of Parker Elementary and you’ll find a box for random acts of kindness. A hallway sign that reads: “Bullies not allowed in our house.” Stickers on lockers with affirmations for the littlest students.
“One girl kept hers up for a month,” said Kindness Club member Ava Kallunki, 11. “It really just made her feel good.”
Last November, Greenhoe showed his students a link to the Good News Network which, for 20 years, has curated positive news stories from around the world. He suggested that they use the concept to inspire their own goodwill project.
The students leapt in. Every Tuesday, they give up recess to gather in school social worker Ashley Justen’s office to plan events and kindness challenges.
“We all wanted kids to feel welcome,” said Ady Bollinger, a key driver of the club. She pulls out the group’s organizational binder and opens a green notebook to the club’s first meeting where its mission was established.
“This club’s purpose is to stop bullying and improve self-esteem!” Ady wrote. “Most of all, it is to spread kindness to the school!”
Every member helps run the meetings, Ady said, “because we’re all leaders.”
In addition to notes placed on lockers, they’ve planned events including Operation Candy Cane at Christmas and Operation Spring Bunny, passing out colorful eggs and greetings such as “Hoppy Spring.”
“Some people don’t celebrate Easter,” Ady noted, regarding the event’s inclusive name.
Sometimes, their outreach is more subtle, maybe as simple as stopping to give attention to a kindergarten crying in the hall.
“It just feels good helping kids,” said 11-year-old member Elsie Ostmoe. “Sometimes, it’s hard for a kid to go to an adult. It’s easier to go to a kid your age.”
Once, several members of the Kindness Club were called to action to find a jacket a younger student had misplaced. They looked everywhere for it. They never found it, but they found invaluable camaraderie.
Their reach expands to Parker Elementary students in the special education program. “If other kids aren’t nice to them,” Tessa Boche, 11, said, “we say, ‘The Kindness Club is here’ and they change immediately.”
The Kindness Club organized a GoFundMe campaign a while back and raised $465 to fund their projects, including buying Popsicles and eggs for the Hoppy Spring event.
“When we did that,” Ady said, “we made an oath that we were not to spend the money on us.”
They also created a Google slides presentation sharing what kindness is, and is not, which included the ills of cyberbullying, bus bullying (“tell the bus driver”), and name calling which, Tessa said, “can be as harsh as hitting someone. It hurts.”
Not surprisingly, Greenhoe said, “Now everybody wants to be part of this, which is great.”
But the success of the Kindness Club means a new challenge: Keeping the good feeling going as every single member heads off to middle school in the fall.
Fourth-graders are being invited to write an essay about why they’d be a good choice to continue the Kindness Club next year. The essay, members clarified, “must be at least a paragraph long and it must say why you would make a good leader for the next fifth-grade Kindness Club.”
In a kind aside, they added: “Don’t worry if you don’t become a leader; you can still become a member if the leader lets you in.”
Greenhoe is also helping the youngsters develop a blueprint for other schools interested in starting a Kindness Club. Schools are invited to e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ava’s advice on starting a club? “Start small.”
Added Elsie: “Make a poster, then progress.”
New clubs or not, Greenhoe has seen the impact of the students’ efforts every single day.
“Other kids are seeing that being kind is cool,” he said. “It’s having a ripple effect. I really have seen a change in attitudes.”