Thursday, March 11, 2010

Community: The school that wants to be nice to you - kindness, tolerance, anti-bullying, and anti-prejudice

Perhaps not a major news story that grabs the attention of the mainstream media, but a story that deserves wider exposure.

Students in grades K-8 at St. Peter the Apostle Roman Catholic School, in the Northern Liberties section of Philadelphia, have been working all year on a school-wide kindness initiative, and have taken that to the next level by focusing on kindness for Lent.

School social worker Jessica Baskin Taylor, M.Ed., has taught an in-class lesson on kindness, tolerance, anti-bullying, and anti-prejudice in each class from Kindergarten through 8th grade. She is conducting follow-up lessons with each class during the month of March.

During the first lessons, students were introduced to the ideas of doing random acts of kindness, and were assigned random kindness partners, for whom they needed to do two anonymous random acts of kindness sometime between December and February. They were to write (or draw, for the younger students) something about how it felt to do something nice for someone, and/or how it felt to have something nice done for them. They also chose several classmates about whom they wrote one nice statement on an index card, anonymously; kindness partners then put all of the cards for their partner into a booklet or poster, decorated it, and will present it to them during the second kindness lesson this month.

In the second class lessons, Ms. Taylor will read relevant stories in each class (Because of You, by B. G. Hennessy, The Meanest Thing to Say, by Bill Cosby, and Sister Anne's Hands, by Marybeth Lorbiecki), and students will engage in activities that demonstrate the effects of unkind behavior. For example, students in grades 3-8 will hear a story called "The Torn Heart," from Peter Yarrow's Don't Laugh At Me anti-bullying curriculum (available at, in which a child is consistently put down by his family, classmates, teachers, and others. Each time the students hear a put-down in the story, they will rip a piece off of a construction paper heart that has "I am important" written on it. In this way they can graphically see how put-downs can tear away at someone's self-confidence. Grades 6-8 will also commit to being Character Ambassadors for the school (taken from an activity on They will choose an attribute such as joyfulness, caring, peacemaking, etc., and write a mission statement about how they will apply this attribute in class, in the school, at home, and in their community. They will receive certificates heralding them as ambassadors, which will be hung in the hallway for everyone to see.

"It's a program that I wish all kids in all schools could participate in — they need it so much," Ms. Taylor said. "Our students are mostly inner-city kids, and they see and experience a lot of unkind things. These experiences carry over into the classroom, and while our students are generally pretty well-behaved and respectful (compared to other schools I've been in or heard of), we do see some conflict in classes. I hope they take to heart even just a little bit of what we're doing, and that they can in turn spread some of that knowledge to others."

Additionally, Ms. Taylor will collect all of the stories and drawings that the students have done, reflecting on their experiences with random acts of kindness, and will create a school-wide newsletter, highlighting some of the most impressive results.

Sister Rose Federici, school principal, chose to have the whole school focus on kindness for Lent. "Our question for Lent is 'do you treat others with kindness,'" she said, "And if everyone does random acts of kindness, it can change the whole world."

St. Peter the Apostle Roman Catholic School strives to educate students in grades Pre-K through 8th so that the talents developed and values nurtured will contribute not only to the child's personal growth and development, but also to the building of a strong and just society. The school believes that increased emphasis on a world-wide vision and social responsibility should characterize the school's curriculum. St. Peter the Apostle Roman Catholic School is accredited by the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Elementary Schools.

Source St. Peter the Apostle Roman Catholic School

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