AYER -- Among the many challenges today's children will likely face in the future, the next generation of post-millennial who will become the leaders of tomorrow must learn how to be nice to each other. That's the basic premise behind "The Great Kindness Challenge" Page Hilltop Elementary School students are participating in again this year.
Kindness, or the act of being kind -- every place and all the time -- comes with an essential list of do's and don'ts, according to program materials, including age-appropriate videos, books, projects, posters and classroom activities shared with Page Hilltop students and two GKC assemblies held to celebrate the school's "Day of Caring" last week, one for K-3rd graders and the other for fourth and fifth graders.
At the second session, slogans such as "Kindness... matters" -- introduced by Principal Fred Deppe and to which students enthusiastically responded on cue -- were aimed at the same upbeat message: Kindness takes commitment and practice but its a doable goal that everybody should strive for every day because it matters "to all of us, all the time."
"We're a kindness-certified school," Deppe told students, staff and family members in the Ayer Shirley Regional High School auditorium, referring to the international program the school has been part of for a number of years. He also reminded the fifth grade Panther Leadership Team they could make a big difference, going forward. "You're the role models, the leaders, others will look to you," he said.
The assembly began with a video in which pairs of student reporters roamed through the school, pointing out acts of kindness. From cheery greetings to and from teachers at the door to "starting the day with happy smiles," students' actions showed that kindness is an attitude as well as an achievement.
In the gym, for example, a girl is standing alone by the wall, watching as others play basketball.
Why not ask her if she wants to join in? They do. She does. Easy and simple. A kindness moment.
Another scenario is set in the cafeteria, where a girl wanders with her tray. She looks lost, left out.
Until a group sitting at a table she's passing asks her to join them.
Then there's the boy in the hallway who notices that a younger student's shoes are untied. He gets a stool, invites the little boy to sit down and ties his shoes for him.
Elsewhere in the halls, where posters tout the "kindness matters" message, another boy picks up litter.
"Keeping your school clean is an act of kindness," one of the student reporters states.
Next, a teacher is shown reading a storybook to a group of students. The book addresses the meaning of kindness, asking questions such as "What is kind?" and "What does it mean to be kind?"
Neither a category nor a "sort of" thing, kindness incorporates caring, understanding, learning from mistakes. Kindness is about encouragement, welcoming new students with a smile, saying please and thank you. "So spread the word, show your friends how kindness works, help make a better world."
Then comes a collage of student portraits, colorful as a rainbow, studded with smiles and backed by the song:" What a Wonderful World..."
In one of the videos, a boy running through the corridor collides with someone else, knocking the other kid's books to the floor. Along comes another boy, who kindly stops to help pick up the scattered books.
The videos and a takeaway checklist of "kindness challenges" students were encouraged to complete - ideally in a week -- underscored the lesson plan. One-liners like "Be the reason someone smiles today." and "Pass it on!" illustrate hope, showing how kindness sown can take root, reaping rewards all around.
The assembly wrapped with a rousing dance number on stage, choreographed by Karyn Farnsworth, who teaches at a local dance studio and has two children at Page Hilltop. The performance has been on the road, she said, including a recent gig at the Monarch's game in Manchester, NH.