SCHOOLS | October 19, 2018
When you walk into Dawes Elementary on the Southwest side of Chicago, the first thing you will see is a miniature replica of a schoolhouse painted a bright, vibrant red. On top of the house is a tiny bell that jingles with the slightest touch. Painted colorfully above the door of the schoolhouse are two words: Kindness Matters.
A dedication to kindness and social-emotional learning (SEL) is what put Dawes as a top 10 finalist out of 500 schools in the nation who participated in the Middle School Kindness Challenge last spring. DonorsChoose, a non-profit organization that allows individuals to donate to a school’s classroom project, created the challenge.
School counselor, Carla Frangella, says kindness runs “deep in the heart of the school.”
“Here at Dawes, the school’s learning community is built off the foundation of tolerance and respect for individual differences,” she says. “We have so many positive reinforcements, and it keeps growing.”
When the news was announced on September 5 that Dawes was a national finalist — the only school in Illinois — Alyse Biszewski, the school’s social worker, says she was elated but, most of all, proud.
“I’m proud of the students and staff and the way they embraced the challenge,” says Biszewski.
Since the challenge has ended, students continue demonstrating acts of kindness, staff say.
On March 8, Principal Mary Dixon received an email from DonorsChoose asking schools to participate in the Kindness Challenge.
“Ms. Dixon sent an email to staff saying that participating in the Kindness Challenge would be a great way to honor the seventeen children who lost their lives in Parkland school shooting,” says Frangella. “We decided that everyone in the school could honor them by giving five compliments a day for seventeen days, from March 14 to April 13.”
The school jumped at the opportunity.
Three “kindness cheerleaders” were chosen to champion the challenge: Biszewski, Frangella, and Amani Abuhabsah, a science teacher.
In addition to giving compliments, all fourth through eighth-grade teachers integrated SEL topics into their daily lessons.
Teachers and “kindness cheerleaders” focused on relationship building, mindset, empathy and cyber kindness.
THE KINDNESS BOX
In addition to the compliments and daily lessons, Frangella says the school went a step further to show their appreciation for one another by creating a kindness box.
“Students, teachers and parents wrote down the name of a student and the kind action they witnessed that student perform,” says Frangella. “They would put the note in the kindness box, and every Friday, Ms. Biszewski would go to the intercom, pull a name, and read it for everyone to hear.”
As the Kindness Challenge kicked off, Biszewski says she was amazed to see how involved students and teachers became in the competition.
“It was really interesting seeing some of the things kids were doing,” says Biszewski. “Whether it was sticking up for another student, picking up something off the floor for a student, using nice words or lending a pencil, it really drew attention to the nice, everyday things that students took pride in doing.”
IN THE CLASSROOM
Students latched onto lessons like “The Art of the Apology” and “Everyday Gratitude.”
Biszewski says the lessons taught students life-long skills.
“I really liked [‘The Art of the Apology’] a lot because it discussed what an actual apology is and how you go about doing it,” says Biszewski. “Those are some of the things that we, even as adults, don’t think about. We may teach kids to say sorry, but we don’t teach them why.”
Aiden Tapiaolque, a 5th-grade student, says, because of the challenge, he learned lessons he hopes to use in the future, like how to be a good helper and the importance of teamwork.
“In gym class, we did this jumping project where we had to jump and land at the same time,” says Tapiaolque. “We had to do it without talking but work as a team to get it right. I learned how to work with my team to get a job done.”
Veronica Medina, a 7th-grade student, says she even began to notice a difference amongst her classmates’ behavior.
“When we were doing the kindness challenge, my classmates started to change,” says Medina. “They stopped acting out and started talking nicely to one another.”
Frangella says that as students engaged in all aspects of the kindness challenge, she witnessed a change amongst her students.
“[The challenge] had a positive effect on behavioral and academic growth all around,” says Frangella.
She adds that students have learned the art of kindness, something she hopes they carry with them for the rest of their lives.
“Kindness isn’t just something that is grade equivalent, it is a life-long skill,” says Frangella. “To know how it feels to give and receive a compliment and to be kind, I hope they take that forward as they go.”