At Harrison Elementary, the name of the game is kindness

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Nick Crow
Sunday, March 16, 2014

JANESVILLE—Tami Burke witnessed a heart-warming act of kindness in her fifth-grade classroom at Harrison Elementary last week.

“In my class, students get tickets for good behavior and can earn things like lunch with the teacher and other perks,” Burke said. “It's also used as a teaching lesson. Students can owe the teacher for things they do wrong.”

Last week, which was Kindness Week at Harrison, a boy gave one of his classmates 30 tickets because he noticed his fellow student was falling behind.

“I think it was a really neat thing,” Burke said. “Their friend was so far behind that he was like, 'Here, have some of mine.'

“That's what we're trying to do, here—just make good people out of the students.”

Such stories give Harrison staff hope Kindness Week is teaching students respect, kindness and an understanding of paying it forward.

“I think equal weight to learning academics is people skills,” Burke said. “We want to teach them things that will help them in life. You have to know how to treat people. This gets them motivated and makes them feel good when they do something nice.”

Kindness Week was introduced to Harrison by Lara Pensy and her daughter Ariana, who is a fourth-grader at Harrison.

“No one has done this exact program here,” Pensy said. “I think it complements anti-bullying programs pretty well.”

Kindness Week teaches kindness through activities such as the Expressing Kindness Through Art Contest. Students who enter will create art they think illustrates kindness, Pensy said. Cash prizes will be awarded April 7 and will include pay-it-forward cash for charities chosen by the winning students, she said.

Outside of school, students will give people Kindness Coins when the students commit acts of kindness. The coins were custom made for Harrison, Pensy said.

Coin recipients will be able to log the coin numbers into a website and pass on the coins to other people with acts of kindness. The coins can be tracked on the website as they get passed with more acts of kindness, she said.

Students in second through fifth grades each received one coin last week.

“We're trying to instill in the kids they can make a difference in the world,” Principal Jessica Grandt-Turke said. “We're excited because this is also a way to get parents involved because a lot of the activities kids can do at home.”

Pensy created a kindness bulletin board that reads “we can change the world with kindness” and asks students to “fill their buckets” with kindness.

“It teaches kindness all over,” Pensy said. “Filling your bucket at any age group.”

The kindness events at Harrison were inspired by Ariana Pensy receiving the Charlotte Bacon Act of Kindness Award last February in Newtown, Conn., Pensy said.

The organization Newtown Kindness was formed in memory of Charlotte Bacon, who died in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings. The goal of the group is not to focus on the tragedy but to foster kindness in children and acknowledge them for their kind acts, Pensy said.

“This week teaches people that you shouldn't just be kind at school,” said Zoe Williams, a fifth-grader at Harrison. “You should be kind everywhere. This week is for showing kindness, especially outside of school.”

Williams said she liked the idea of passing the coins outside of school and then tracking them online as they pass from person to person.

“Kindness makes me feel safe,” Williams said. “All I can say is it's very important to be kind.”

Grandt-Turke said its the responsibility of educators to teach character as much as academics.

“This complements character education,” Grandt-Turke said. “It's an extension of that. Families can get involved, and it can take place outside the walls of Harrison. What we do here has a ripple effect. The whole thing is about connecting people.”

Madison Burrow, 11, said she plans to enter the art contest because she likes art and likes the idea of Kindness Week.

“You should be kind and care about the earth, and when you are, you'll get kindness back,” Burrow said. “It's important.”

Harrison Elementary Student Council members made announcements each day during Kindness Week to remind peers of its importance and give examples of kindness. Students and staff wore red last Wednesday as a reminder to be kind.

“This is a week for being especially kind,” fifth-grader Kayley Ellis, said. “It's very important because if you're not kind, you can't expect people to be kind to you. If you're kind, people will treat you better.

“Kindness should be everywhere.”

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