Kids learn kindness is cool
Camden — Students in Vicki Hamlin's eighth-grade language arts classes at Camden Rockport Middle School have completed a lesson in putting their values into practice.
In an assignment called the Kindness Project, they were asked to plan and perform a simple act of kindness for someone not in their class or their immediate family. Kindness is one of the school's core values, along with grit, self-control and responsibility. In addition to the good deed itself, students were to photograph or video their project, write a short piece about it and make an oral presentation to the rest of the class. Separately, they wrote about their reactions to the assignment.
A large bulletin board in Hamlin's classroom is covered with file cards describing students' projects, interspersed with mottoes and quotations about kindness. Projects, many of which were performed anonymously, ranged from prepaying for someone at the laundromat or the car wash to leaving flowers and friendly notes on people's doorsteps in a benign turn on the timeworn “ding-dong-ditch” prank.
Students cooked for relatives and neighbors, looked up former teachers to express their gratitude, left positive messages stuck to mirrors or on car windshields. Several did good deeds for a mail carrier, and the middle school's janitors, lunch ladies and bus drivers also came in for acts of appreciation.
While many of the kind acts were done anonymously and/or to people unknown to the students, some were more personal. William Karod brought cookies to an old woman who lives at Merry Gardens. In his response to the assignment, he said, “During my time visiting her, she told me stories about her long 94 years of life.”
Calvin James visited his third-grade teacher, Steve Seidell, who is retiring at the end of the year, and gave him a cupcake. His presentation included a photo of himself with his teacher: both are beaming. James said he wanted Seidell to know he was remembered, and that it made him feel good to make his teacher happy.
Some students chose to work for others. They volunteered at P.A.W.S. animal shelter, shoveled driveways and even helped clean the school. Jenna Stearns said in her response, “I decided to help the people that seemed unappreciated. I helped the janitors.” She sanitized all the desks, doorknobs and keyboards in the seventh-grade wing, and cleaned the toilets and mirrors. “I wanted to help keep kids healthy,” she wrote.
Others opted to make people smile. Abbey O'Donal thought about how many girls feel insecure about their appearance, and wanted to give them encouragement. She wrote messages like “You're beautiful,” “Don't forget to smile,” and “Have a nice day” on sticky notes and put them on the mirrors in the girls' locker room at the Penobscot Bay YMCA. In her presentation, she said she hoped, “someone might look in the mirror and feel good about themselves.”
John Chilton took an unusual approach to cheering people up. He took two throw pillows to downtown Camden and threw them at people on the street to start a pillow fight. Some people, he said, were up for it, and enjoyed having a pillow fight with him, while others either were not interested or did not understand why the pillow was thrown in the first place.
Emmy Brawn made a poster that said, “Have a nice day” and stood on the sidewalk holding it up and waving to passing cars. Quite a few people waved back, she said. In her presentation, she summed up the feelings of most class members. “It's really nice to see people smile and know that I might have brightened their day, even a little bit.”