“My mom always says to me that I’ve always been very kind and very sweet, and she wants me to stay that way.”

—Anna Boyd, sixth-grader at Franklin Middle School

JANESVILLE

I love you, Anna Boyd’s mom.

Not just for giving a journalist a great lead to a story, but for teaching Anna that kindness matters.

It does give Anna, 11, an unfair advantage in this week’s Great Kindness Challenge at Franklin Middle School.

The Great Kindness Challenge is a national movement that has reached 10.5 million students in more than 15,000 schools in 91 countries, according to its website, thegreatkindnesschallenge.com. That translates to about 525 million acts of kindness.

At the local level, Franklin students aimed for 50 kind acts per kid—or rather 50 kind acts per adolescent struggling with the vicissitudes of middle school.

You remember middle school, right? You could be cast into gloom for days by an unkind look for wearing the wrong shirt or having an uncool locker decoration.

Middle-schoolers are at an age when self-absorption is developmentally appropriate—or at least not surprising, Franklin counselor Katie Clarquist said.

“Developmentally, they’re all about themselves,” Clarquist said. “They know this stuff (kindness), but they really have to be encouraged.”

Clarquist and school psychologist Brandee Wilker saw the kindness challenge as a way provide that encouragement and improve the school climate.

School climate matters, especially at this age. If students feel safe and welcome at school, they’re more likely to succeed academically.

“When you feel connected to the school, when you feel safe coming here, you’re going to do better and achieve more,” Clarquist said.

The kindness challenge gives students concrete ideas and activities, and that’s really the push they needed.

The list of 50 acts of kindness included:

  • The easy: Smile at 25 people, put a nice note in a friend’s backpack, give five people compliments, thank your crossing guard, bus driver, school volunteer or cafeteria staff.
  • The active: Pick up five pieces of trash on campus, offer to help a custodian or help your teacher with a needed task.
  • The creative: Make a friendship gift for someone new to you, draw a picture and give it to someone, or tell a joke and make someone laugh.
  • The socially precarious: Sit with a different table of kids at lunch, step up for someone in need or entertain someone with a happy dance.

As of Thursday morning, most students were more than halfway through the checklist.

Braden Weber, 11, was up to 27 and was working on sending thank-you notes to his grandfather—former school board member DuWayne Severson—as well as Superintendent Steve Pophal and the cafeteria staff.

Braden said he was surprised at the number of students who embraced the challenge.

“It’s, like, 50 things in a week,” he said. “That’s a lot.”

Braden said he expected to finish all 50—or at least get close.

Jaxon Tajerski, 11, said he expected to get close to finishing, as well.

He already does some of the suggested items on the list, such as telling a joke and making someone laugh.

But smiling at 30 people? That wasn’t something he thought about doing every day.

Meanwhile, Anna Boyd was busy checking boxes next to the acts of kindness.

Despite her head start, she wasn’t through her list of 50 kind acts yet.

She was working on it though.

With her natural talents, she’ll probably succeed.

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