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Be Kind, All The Time: Hamden Students Join Global Effort to Spread Kindness

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WNPR/David DesRoches
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Students at Bear Path School in Hamden promote random acts of kinndness.

The desks in Sarah Lane’s fifth grade class at Bear Path School are covered with handmade paper hearts with short phrases written on them like, “Help Someone,” and “Compliment a Teacher.” 

"The great kindness challenge is when ten million children are performing, like, half a billion acts of kindness," said student Mason Theriault.

And he’s right. According the Great Kindness Challenge website, last year, five million kids from countries around the world performed over a quarter-billion acts of kindness in a week. This year, they’re trying to double it. 

Students are asked to perform different acts of kindness every day for five days.

They're doing everything from smiling at 25 people, to giving someone a hug, or helping people out.

Here’s how Jessica Seneco sees it. 

"When you do a kind act, and it spreads the word to people and then they start doing kind things, then it blocks out hatred and meanness," she said. "Which I think is really important." 

And it’s contagious, said Abraham Hacksey, who did the challenge last year. 

“It’s like a ripple effect, you know, you help someone, they help someone else, they help someone else. It just keeps going,” he said. 

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The goal is to teach kids empathy and also to combat bullying. It also builds their self-esteem because, they say, it feels good to do kind things.

Their teacher, Sarah Lane, found out about the kindness challenge on the social media website Instagram last year. She said she’s in awe by what her kids are able to do. 

"You look in my classroom and it’s a mix of all sorts of kids, religions, families, and they don’t look at each other based on who they worship or how much money they have, they look at each other based on how kind they are," Lane said. "That’s something that adults need to understand. I think they already understand that. I think I learn from them more than they learn from me sometimes." 

Kindness is a big part of social and emotional learning, which is about teaching kids how to relate to each other, and how to identify and understand their own feelings.

"When you’re angry, or frustrated, or mad," Lane said to her students, "how do we go back to the fundamental idea that kindness should kind of overrule all those feelings?"

A couple of her students shot their hands up, and waved them in the air, their faces about to burst with an idea.

"How do you go back to this?" Lane asked. "I want you to think about it. Talk to the person next to you, then come back to me." 

The kids huddled and brainstormed what to do. When they came back, they had all sorts of ideas, and their teacher helped them boil it down to a single word. 

"We talked about that word empathy," Lane said. "What do you think that means?"

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Credit WNPR/David DesRoches
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Research from Columbia University has shown that kids who learn social and emotional skills are much more successful later in life, and much more adjusted and able to handle stress as adults. 

Toward the end of class, as the students talked about what kindness meant to them, Jessica Seneco had an idea. 

"One of the the things that we can do, that kindness can do, is, just as Martin Luther King said, hatred can not drive out hatred, only love can do that," she said.

David finds and tells stories about education and learning for WNPR radio and its website. He also teaches journalism and media literacy to high school students, and he starts the year with the lesson: “Conflicts of interest: Real or perceived? Both matter.” He thinks he has a sense of humor, and he also finds writing in the third person awkward, but he does it anyway.

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