AYER -- Caught up in a global movement that fosters and spotlights acts of kindness and thereby aims to change the world for the better, dozens of Page Hilltop Elementary School students joined parents, teachers and local residents for a block Dance for Kindness on Ayer's Main Street this fall.
A colorful film of that joyful event was featured at an assembly held this week to celebrate World Kindness Day and another year of participation in the Great Kindness Challenge, with activities, projects and events at Page Hilltop geared to pay it forward and continue the tradition.
Despite the dismal day, chill and rainy, that was the sunny spirit in which Page Hilltop Principal Fred Deppe, other administrative staff and teachers shepherded their flock of K-5 students across campus to the Ayer Shirley Regional High School auditorium Monday afternoon.
First off, the kids got a warm welcome, marching into the auditorium past double columns of local celebrity greeters holding big, bright signs that urged kindness. The line-up included business leaders, the high school principal, the school resource officer, Ayer police chief, town administrator, and State Rep. Sheila Harrington, among others.
With the auditorium filled and students in their seats, Deppe noted "random acts of kindness" that saved the day when the video and sound systems set up for the assembly went kaput. He thanked the folks who cobbled together a replacement system in the nick of time. He also thanked those who took time from busy schedules to be there. That's an act of kindness, too, he said.
The kindness movement is global and growing. Deppe noted that that other schools and kids worldwide -- about 10 million students in 20,000 schools in 103 countries -- were celebrating that day, sharing the same message. While teachers want their students to grow up to do great things, be successful, etc., they also want them to become "kind, caring adults," he said. Which is what the GKC is all about.
Among the guest greeters who spoke, briefly, Ayer Town Administrator Robert Pontbriand said that spreading kindness anywhere, any time, is something anyone can do. At no cost. He presented an official proclamation from the Town of Ayer, recognizing Page Hilltop's efforts toward that end.
"We're with you!" he said.
Gervais Ford owner and local Rotary Club member John Gervais picked up on that line when he spoke later in the program. "Kindness costs nothing," he said.
But sometimes, money can help.
Gervais presented a $500 check to help the Weekend Snack Pack program, a school project that packs weekend snacks for kids in need.
"You need food to fuel your body," he said, same as a car, like those he sells and services at his dealership. That's why he's glad to be part of the program, he said.
Page Hilltop student Presley Boo and her sister Chastity Boo, an Ayer Shirley High School junior, sang "Count on Me," with Presley playing the ukelele.
Deppe introduced first-grader Elizabeth Dooley, whose dad, Roger helped launch a book collection drive last year to help the W.C. Andrews Elementary School in his former Texas hometown after the hurricane hit. It became a great community effort. "They needed books, books and more books," Deppe said. And over half a ton of them were packed at Page Hilltop and shipped to the other school free, courtesy of town businesses.
Next, a video of students sharing their hopes for the future. Based on the late Martin Luther King's "I Have A Dream" speech, the kids filled in the blanks, dreaming up a potpourri of positive outcomes, including peace, respect, no more family squabbles and friends being nice to each other.
The theme continued as the Page Hilltop chorus took the stage to sing with three students signing the words. One of them is new to the school and knows sign language. She taught the others, Deppe said.
Given that people who can't hear might miss out on the song, signing is an act of kindness too, he said.
So are the projects and plans on the to-do list for the Panther Leadership Team, fourth and fifth graders whose applications to join the group must be okayed by their teachers and parents. One item on their list now is helping out at Loaves and Fishes food pantry in Devens, postponed due to a snow storm.
Then came a group of kindergarten students with their own to-do list of kind acts, from making parents' beds or placing used dishes in the sink to holding a door open for someone, helping older folks with yard work or shoveling to helping a sibling with homework. Generous offers, all. One boy said he would ask a child on the playground to play. A girl said she'd write a thank-you note to her teacher.
"How many can do these things?" Deppe asked the audience. A sea of small hands shot up.
So this is the Great Kindness Challenge. Not so tough to envision or to accept. Not so tough at all.