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Trumbull students spread kindness on a day to remember Sandy Hook victims

Madison Middle School
Joe Amon
Connecticut Public
Seventh graders Isaiah Velez and Cameron Blazer add compliments to their classmates’ papers after discussing how to spark joy and spread kindness during their Advisory group class at Madison Middle School in Trumbull, Connecticut, on Dec. 14, 2021.

Compliments make people feel better, and the lesson students in Trumbull received Tuesday is that using could prevent tragedy.

Students at Madison Middle School marked Dec. 14, 2012, a dark day when 26 people were murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, with lightness. They learned about kindness.

One exercise began with teacher Valentina Cenatiempo giving each kid in a seventh grade class one giant piece of construction paper.

“You’re going to write your name in the center of this paper,” Cenatiempo said.

Students left the papers at their seats and walked to other desks; the teacher instructed her students to write a compliment at each one. Afterward, the students reported back to the teacher what positive notes they got.

“Someone said I’m nice and knowledgeable,” Samantha Espiritu said.

After the exercise, Cenatiempo explained how compliments make people feel. They feel kindness – and “spreading kindness” is one lesson in a program funded by Sandy Hook Promise called “14 Days of Action.”

Sandy Hook Promise was founded by Nicole Hockley after she lost her son Dylan in the shooting nine years ago. Now kids are being trained by Hockley’s organization to act on ending gun violence.

“When you see signs, when you see concerning behaviors, when something’s not sitting right, it is important for a student to tell a trusted adult and for a trusted adult to take action,” Hockley said.

Espiritu said it’s tragic that anyone would ever target a school for a shooting. She also said that understanding what motivated the act can help prevent shootings. Espiritu thought about mental health as she did the kindness exercise.

“I think it really helps with the kids who feel like they don’t really have much importance at school because I know what that feels like, and I like to check up with my friends a lot just to make sure that they’re feeling OK,” Espiritu said.

Espiritu is what Hockley would call an “upstander.”

“Don’t be a bystander, be an upstander – you’re trying to help someone else,” Hockley said.

Hockley’s organization funds 3,500 of these programs on preventing gun violence across the country. Kids are trained to know the signs and act – if they see something, they should say something. They’re encouraged to inform a trusted adult or report tips anonymously to the Sandy Hook Promise website.

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