To Carry and Be Carried

Teachers are no strangers to heavy lifting. They support one another in challenging times, and they shoulder the burdens of their students on a daily basis. For one Ohio teacher, carrying a student became literal.

Ten-year-old Ryan King is accustomed to missing out on activities. Born with spina bifida, she is confined to a wheelchair. When her class field trip to a fossil bed by a river was recently announced, Ryan hoped she could go, but her mother was dubious. The fossil bed isn’t wheelchair accessible, and the only alternative was to carry her.

Just like other preteens, Molly craves adventure and independence from her mom—two things that were in short supply. This field trip was another reminder of her limitations.

In stepped teacher Jim Freeman, a teacher at Molly’s school. Freeman doesn’t oversee her class, but he was familiar with her smile from the hallway. For an hour, Freeman carried the 50-pound girl in a backpack carrier in 90-degree heat. Ryan had a wonderful time and was happy that for once, her classmates envied her.

“A little time out of my day and a little extra effort can give Ryan something to remember,” Freeman told Good Morning America.

Freeman well sums up the cost of serving another—in so many cases, it’s just a little time and a little extra effort. Call it what you will—kindness, compassion, generosity—this trait has the potential to radically change the experience of another person.

Extra time and effort is something most teachers provide almost instinctively. They give haircuts before fifth-grade graduations; they read to their students in the evenings on Facebook Live. And students benefit. But what if, beyond receiving a new haircut, a boost in literacy, or a piggyback ride over rough terrain, students are also receiving something even more powerful? What if the behavior they see impacts the people they become?

In the book The Content of Their Character, James Davison Hunter and Ryan S. Olson call this phenomenon “catching.” Values and behavior are contagious. As teachers model character, the students in their lives mirror it.

Consider the story of Sophia Alvarado. Melody Harbour, a special education teacher’s aide at Sophia’s school, was recently diagnosed with stage three lung cancer. According to KCBD-TV in Lubbock, Texas, Harbour endured 30 rounds of radiation and four rounds of chemotherapy. When Sophia, a third grader, saw that Harbour’s hair had fallen out, she decided to cut off her own hair in solidarity.

“This little girl is why I have to do this every day. There’s a lot of them in there,” Harbour told KCBD-TV, pointing at the school. “I can’t just sit at home and dwell on my problems.”

It’s clear that Sophia, with her gift to Harbour, chose to focus on the needs of others as well.

In another recent situation, a teacher’s asthma attack was averted by the care and quick thinking of a student. Ten-year-old Nevaeh Woods was volunteering in Kim Rosby’s kindergarten classroom when Rosby was suddenly struggling to breathe and unable to speak. Rosby held up her car keys to indicate that her inhaler was in her locked car; Woods responded by seizing the keys and running to retrieve it. Her quick thinking saved Rosby’s life.

So accustomed are they to giving, teachers don’t expect to be recipients of students’ consideration. But the experience is sweet. Beyond the actual benefit is the knowledge that one’s own example may have contributed to the child’s action.

A child’s instinct toward kindness is either reinforced or undermined by the messages and examples around her. And the teachers who “carry” their students—both literally and figuratively—are helping shape “carriers” without saying a thing. Some children won’t bear the burdens of others until adulthood, but some will bear burdens now—sometimes even those of adults.

Catching Character: Teachers as Honorary Dads

This past weekend, fathers were honored with steak dinners, homemade cards, and thoughtful gifts. Great dads are worthy of gratitude for sure—and so are the men, including teachers, who make sacrifices for children who aren’t their own.


Consider Vohn Lewis, a substitute teacher in Virginia. Right before the fifth-grade graduation at George Mason Elementary, a boy’s shoe came apart. Lewis realized that glue wasn’t going to solve the problem, so he took off his own shoes and let the boy wear them so he could receive his diploma in style.


“Me being me, sometimes my heart leads me to certain situations,” Lewis told WTVR. “I said you can wear my shoes, man; I wear a size 10.”


Or consider Nathan Miller of Clark Middle/High School, who noticed that the desks assigned to his middle school classroom were insufficient for the experiments he wanted students to conduct. The school didn’t have funds for new furniture, so Miller went about fashioning lab tables himself, retrofitting discarded computer desks. He realized over time that the steel-tubed frames he first constructed weren’t sturdy enough, and he has slowly replaced each frame with a wooden one.


“When people like Mr. Miller are sourcing their own things to bring a better science environment, it really shows what kind of a person he is and how much he cares about our kids,” said Assistant Principal Lauren Dado.


Not only do acts of kindness like these provide kids with things they need—they also give them striking models of what it means to be a good person. It’s great to tell kids that kindness and self-sacrifice are important, but it’s even better to show them. As James Baldwin famously said, “Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.”


This process has been referred to as “catching” by James Davison Hunter and Ryan S. Olson of the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture at the University of Virginia. In The Content of Their Character, a collection of case studies of character formation in American high schools, they write that

the articulation of a moral culture through explicit teaching is important…. What these case studies also consistently show is the importance of the informal articulation of a moral culture through the example of teachers and other adults in the school community.

And when those adults’ actions include kindness and care, strong connections are formed. Teacher Rene Trevino, a first-generation American who remembers the challenges of working while attending school, teaches science during the school year at an elementary school and during the summer at a gifted and talented camp. He has made a special commitment to kids from low-income and single-parent families; he said students sometimes slip and call him “Dad.”


“I don’t mind,” Trevino told The Monitor. “We grow strong bonds together.”


Such bonds provide kids with support and encouragement they may not receive at home; a loving connection also increases the potential impact on shaping character, as kids want to emulate those they admire. As Hunter and Olson note in their discussion of catching,

For this reason, identifying and hiring the right teachers—those who are both knowledgeable and skilled as teachers but also models of the virtues the schools wanted to instill—was a vital concern in all of the schools [studied].

To the teachers who act as honorary dads and to the principals who help hire them—many of whom are modeling strong character without even realizing it—we say “thank you.”

Surprised by Kindness: The Unexpected Power That Comes from Doing Good

We never grow accustomed to the news of a school shooting; every time violence invades a place of learning, it feels like the sacred has been violated. This past spring, three lives were lost in two school shootings within a week. As families and communities grieve, many educators are asking themselves the question they always ask: “What can be done?”

Responses to these events vary. But in the aftermath of other school shootings, two teachers—at different schools, in different states—initiated campaigns of “secret kindness” that eventually went viral.

After the Sandy Hook shooting in 2012, high school teacher Ferial Pearson experienced a range of emotions from shock to grief to fear. According to a TEDx Talk Pearson gave in 2014, she was discussing the shooting with her children when her son said, “When people bully me, I get really mad… I just want to lash out at somebody, at something, I want to hurt somebody, but then just in time, when someone is kind to me, that feeling goes away.” And then Pearson’s daughter commented, “What if people had been kinder to the shooter at Sandy Hook? What if people had been nice to him his whole life? Maybe the shooting would have never happened.”

This sparked Pearson’s idea to recruit her students as “Secret Agents of Kindness.” Her plan was that each week, they would draw an envelope containing an act of kindness and perform it as secretly as possible. Pearson’s high school juniors were enthusiastic about the proposal and went through a process of assessing risks, planning an agent-initiating ceremony, assigning each other secret agent names, and brainstorming a list of secret acts of kindness. These ranged from writing a letter to a classmate who tended to “fall under the radar,” to sitting with someone at lunch who was alone, to picking up litter after school every day. The only rules were that the acts of kindness couldn’t cost any money, and they had to be performed on school grounds because that was the culture Pearson’s class was seeking to change. Pearson required the students to journal about the experience every week.

In 2018, middle school teacher Justin Parmenter’s decided to institute a kindness campaign of his own when a freshman shot and killed a classmate at a school in his district. Parmenter said he had “already been thinking a lot about the decline in positive interactions in our society and how we might more effectively teach character in our schools. But this local act of gun violence added a new sense of urgency to my goal of building community and cultivating kindness between students.”

In Parmenter’s project, “Undercover Agents of Kindness,” his students drew the name of a classmate and then had two weeks to perform an unexpected act of kindness. Students who were barely acquainted began surprising each other with treats, complimenting one another, studying together, and helping carry books and musical instruments to class.

In both Pearson’s and Parmenter’s classes, students described feeling awkward about approaching someone they didn’t know well. However, a number of them said the kindness exercise positively affected their personal interactions, built stronger relationships between classmates, and inspired patience and forgiveness. Pearson said, “We became a family. We became braver. We became more loving. We couldn’t wait to come to school. We couldn’t wait to make someone’s day just by smiling at them.”

Interestingly, both Parmenter and Pearson mentioned the idea of power in reflecting on their students’ experiences.

“I wanted them to feel this sense of empathy,” Pearson said, “to understand how good it feels to be kind to people, to build a habit of kindness, to understand that they—as young as they were, as resource-less as they were monetarily—that they had some power.”

Similarly, Parmenter said that in his students’ written reflections on kindness, “… almost every time they added that they were proud of themselves… and felt the power in brightening someone else’s day.”

It is not wholly unsurprising that both teachers chose the word “power” to describe one of the byproducts of the kindness projects. Power is a commodity in short supply to teenagers, but which they crave.

Murray Milner, Senior Fellow at the Institute for the Advanced Studies in Culture and author of the book Freaks, Geeks, and Cool Kids, studied teenage culture and its often pain-inflicting clique structures. He summarized some of his findings as follows: “Why this near obsession with status? It is because they have so little real economic or political power. They must attend school for most of the day and they have only very limited influence on what happens there… They do, however, have one crucial kind of power: the power to create an informal social world in which they evaluate one another.”

According to Milner, those “obsessive, superficial, and often mean-spirited” status concerns are rooted in a deep sense of powerlessness. When students feel powerless, they act out in a number of ways—sometimes even violently. Milner closes his book with some suggestions to reduce preoccupation with status by increasing teenagers’ real-world power, from internships to a lower voting age to youth representation on boards of public agencies.

Such ideas necessitate structural and even legal reforms that educators are unable to effect on their own. But what if simply requiring students to practice kindness could also instill a sense of power?

The question of what drives a person to an act of violence is complex and initiates discussions about abuse, mental health, gun access, and the idolization of previous school shooters. Clearly there is not any one single cause. But according to Peter Langman, a psychologist who has studied mass shooters, “These kids often feel very powerless. The one way they can feel like they’re somebody, that they’re a man, is to get a gun and kill people.”

It is impossible to head off every school shooting. But perhaps in a teenage world that is rife with this sense of powerlessness—sometimes with deadly results—the power of kindness could offer a two-fold relief. Maybe the cumulative effect of giving and receiving kindness could help quell the rage and despair some students experience. What kind of difference might it make if all students were consistently complimented, helped, and befriended as part of a school’s culture? At the same time, maybe experiencing the power that comes from practicing kindness could help dismantle this sense of powerlessness. Programs that inspire the exercise of kindness won’t solve the epidemic of school shootings, but maybe they will tip the balance for a few students. Doubtless, they have the potential to make our schools happier, stronger, and healthier for all.




MI ‘success coach’ works with school, parents, community to reduce absenteeism

School “success coach” Scott Snyder is working to improve school attendance among students at Cascades Elementary School in Jackson, Michigan, reports media website MLive.

“We try to provide anything (parents) need to get their children to school,” he told MLive, as he played rock-paper-scissors with students streaming into the building on a recent morning. “We greet the kids every morning enthusiastically.”

Snyder is among numerous success coaches deployed to schools across Michigan by the state’s Department of Health and Human Services. A key goal is to reduce student absenteeism.

According to MLive, the Pathways to Potential Program started in the Detroit, Flint, Pontiac, and Saginaw school districts in the 2012–13 school year and has since spread to other schools in the state.

Success coaches focus on removing barriers that keep kids from school, through everything from securing clothes and personal items to connecting parents with resources in the community. A Pathways statement notes that “students who don’t have these basic needs met often do not go to school.”

The program helped cut chronic absenteeism in Jackson County schools by 20 percent during the 2016–17 school year. Just six Michigan counties met that target, MLive reports.

MDHHS spokesman Bob Wheaton told MLive that Pathways is unique in that it doesn’t require participants to come to a government building to receive assistance, and said student attendance is one of five issues the program works to address, the others being education, health, safety, and self-sufficiency.

* * *

Perhaps the most critical element of this effort is the connection between the success coach, the school’s officials, the parents, and the community in helping the child succeed. Daily school attendance requires—and develops—responsibility, dependability, and grit. These qualities are moral in nature, and while they ultimately reside in each individual student and become each student’s concern, they are more likely to flourish when they are visibly supported and reinforced by the actions and the words of the various adults in the students’ lives. As James Davison Hunter put it in his monograph The Tragedy of Moral Education in America:

Moral education can work where the community, and schools and other institutions within it, share a moral culture that is integrated and mutually reinforcing; where the social networks of adult authority are strong, unified, and consistent in articulating moral ideas and their attending virtues; and where adults maintain a “careful watchfulness” over all aspects of a young person’s maturation.

The habit of attending school regularly is an area where a student’s virtue—in this case, self-discipline—is directly and clearly connected to their academic achievement. The website has discussed the impact chronic absenteeism can have on a child’s academic progress, particularly with young students (like those at Cascades Elementary School). “Missing school in the early grades can have a snowball effect,” notes writer Kate Kelly on the website. “It sets kids up to fall behind in the fundamental reading skills they need in order to move on to more complicated work.”

Parents are key to this process. Kelly observes that

Many parents may not realize how often their child is absent from school. A missed day here and here may not seem significent compared to missing several days in a row. But missing just two days per month can add up to a child being considered chronically absent.

This, she adds, can have direct academic impact:

Chronic absences keep kids from getting the consistent instruction they need to build on basic skills. For kids with learning and attention issues, there’s something else to consider: Frequent absences not only mean less instruction, but also missed opportunities for intervention, re-teaching and enrichment.

Rocketship Academy will ‘touch your soul’ with gratitude

Teachers and administrators at Nashville’s Rocketship United Academy want students to understand that the school’s core values are more than slogans on a poster, so they’re bringing them to life through daily rituals that “create a consistent, predictable, and positive school experience.”

Across the public charter school network, Rocketship schools share four primary values—respect, persistence, empathy, and responsibility—and each school crafts a fifth, individualized value with the help of parents and staff.

“Our core values fit within our mission to prepare our students to thrive in school and beyond by equipping them with critical character skills. Many of our students come from high-poverty communities,” 3rd-grade STEM teacher Tatum Schultz wrote recently for Rocketship.

“Research shows that children living in these communities experience more ‘toxic stress’ than children living in middle or upper class neighborhoods. Toxic stress makes it difficult for children to manage their emotions, resolve conflicts, and respond to provocations,” Schultz wrote. “That is why we create a consistent, predictable, and positive school experience that helps our students develop the social-emotional skills they need to succeed in the classroom and beyond.”

That development occurs in morning “community meetings” with students three times a week to focus on a character education curriculum tailored to upper- and lower-grade students. The program uses five characters with different temperaments and personalities to illustrate important concepts in ways young students can duly relate.

The approach is “designed to give students depersonalized opportunities to practice the skills to recognize their emotions, demonstrate care for others, establish positive relationships, make responsible decisions, and handle challenging situations,” Schultz wrote.

In upper grades, students learn to track their behaviors, feelings, and progress with a mood journal.

At Schultz’s school, parents, administrators, and others selected gratitude for the school’s fifth core value, and educators have incorporated exercises that transformed the concept from a word into “a feeling that will touch your soul when you walk through the front doors,” Schultz wrote.

One example, developed by Rocketship’s Positive Behavioral Interventions and Support team, is Gratitude Grams that allow students to express thanks and appreciation and show kindness to others in their own individual way.

“Every day, for seven days, students were given a half sheet of colored paper with a different student’s name on it,” Schultz explained. “Their responsibility was to watch gratitude spread. They had to write one sentence thanking that student for something they had done or they could capture appreciation for them as a peer.

“At the end of seven days, the students would receive their own name and could read what seven other students appreciated about them.”

Rocketship demonstrates what James Davison Hunter and Ryan S. Olson call “intentional” schools in The Content of Their Character, a summary of field research in school culture and character formation from the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture.

In “intentional” schools, according to editors Hunter and Olson:

The moral and missional ethos of a school was reinforced through a range of practices, or routinized actions—some formal, some informal—all oriented toward giving tangible expressions to the school’s values and beliefs. These included school mottoes, honor codes, school assemblies, mission statements, dress codes, statues, stories, student handbooks and contracts outlining behavioral expectations, and the like . . . All of it bears on the likelihood children will ‘catch’ character.

The Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues offers a model of virtue formation that can help educators ensure that the tenets of strong character are not only taught, but caught by students, as well as have a positive impact on students’ home life.

Social-emotional learning and achievement at Valor

Valor Collegiate Academies in Tennessee is crediting a sharp focus on social and emotional learning (SEL) for students’ astonishing academic success, which propelled its Tennessee schools to the top 1 percent of all middle schools in the state in its first year.

The success at Valor not only sheds light on the value of social-emotional learning, but also provides an opportunity to connect those lessons with broader discussions about good character and morals.

The Charter School Growth Fund, which invested $1.5 million for Valor’s first two schools launched in 2013, featured the schools in a recent “CSGF Portfolio Spotlight” on the organization’s website.

Todd Dickson, CEO of Valor Collegiate Academies, explained that the concept for the charter school was inspired by his work at a high-performing charter school in California that focused heavily on academics, and his twin brother Daren’s time helping children in social services with social and emotional skills.

“Students at Valor spend more time on their social and emotional growth than most traditional students. We first work on self-awareness and self-management to help them develop a strong sense of who they are. Then, we work on social awareness and social management to help them develop positive relationships with others. We believe that doing both things well helps develop healthy kids and communities,” Dickson said.

“We also hear from students that they feel safe here and that they have trusting relationships with peers and adults in the building. This has been beneficial in an academic setting; scholars are more willing to take academic risks. They listen to other people’s opinions and accept a diversity of perspectives.”

Valor schools use “The Valor Compass” to guide student growth and help them focus on four primary objectives: Sharp Minds, Noble Purpose, Big Hearts, and Aligned Actions.

“Mentor time, Expeditions, and academic courses all incorporate explicit and experiential experiences to help scholars develop sharp minds, big hearts, noble purpose, and aligned actions,” according to the Valor website. “Valor scholars develop character strengths such as kindness, determination, curiosity, gratitude, and integrity within a supportive community.”

Ryan Olson, director of the Institute for Advanced Studies on Culture at the University of Virginia, points out in “Character Education” that an SEL researcher argued that “the orientation of social-emotional learning toward action and skill” in SEL programs can complement the “concern for volition and intention often found in character and moral education programs.”

Adding curriculum resources on why students should do and be good—reasons outside oneself and for the benefit of others and a community—improves the stickiness of character formation, and getting students to go deeper by working on developing good sense when there is conflict between the social and emotional skills they’re learning, is an excellent next step, Olson argues.

The UK’s Jubilee Centre offers a worksheet to assist teachers to help students think about the kind of person and type of life they want to pursue.

NY students interview vets, use stories to create interactive book

Fourth graders in Pittsford, New York’s Thornell Road Elementary School are making some new friends in their community and chronicling their stories in a book about service and sacrifice.

Teacher Toni Stevens-Oliver’s class recently interviewed 23 veterans from the Rayson-Miller American Legion Post 899 to get an intimate understanding of why they joined the service and how it shaped their lives. The students then chronicled the stories in a new book called “Veteran’s Voices” – which also features an online app to view videos of the veterans in their own words, WHAM reports.

“The book was a way for us to connect one-on-one personally a student with a veteran and get to know each other through the veteran telling their story and the student writing that story,” Stevens-Oliver told the news site.

The veterans “were blown away by the interest the students showed, the respect the children showed,” she said. “We hope our book inspires people to ask their local veterans what their story is.”

Students told WHAM they learned a lot from the class project.

“Freedom isn’t free, and the veterans sacrificed a lot of things,” student James Kazacos said. “They sacrificed time with their family, holidays.”

“They are just like normal people, except that they step up and do a job that takes courage,” classmate Jake Schreyer added.

Al Herdkoltz, commander of the Rayson-Miller post, said the effort gives him hope the stories of local veterans will not be forgotten.

“They actually had an interest and they were my friends,” he said. “I felt very comfortable and at ease. I felt I had a new friendship even though there was quite a bit of age difference, they were my friends.”

Steven-Oliver shared the project on Shutterfly and posted supporting documents to her Pittsford Schools website as a template for teachers looking to pursue a similar project. The school page also features a special shout out from Sen. Rich Funke acknowledging students’ hard work.

“To take the time to not only interview our veterans, but to take those interviews and incorporate them into an interactive book was special, not just to them but to all of us who care about our veterans,” Funke said in a video message.

Researchers at the Institute of Advanced Studies in Culture stress the importance of developing a sense of responsibility for and ownership of something larger than students’ self-interests. In The Content of Their Character, researchers noted how rural schools are particularly strong at fostering connections to broader spheres of moral obligation through immigration, religion and the military.

“In addition to building greater knowledge of cultures and societies outside of the U.S.,” researchers wrote, great teachers “were aiming primarily to build social-perspective taking, empathy and general critical thinking skills.”

Much of the work centers on gratitude, and the Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues offers a plethora of research on the subject, including the public’s perception of gratitude and links between the virtue and service.

“More recently, the Centre has extended its focus on gratitude by examining the effects of teaching interventions on comprehensions of gratitude and related virtues,” according to the website.

Student poster contest winners promote county’s 10,000 Acts of Kindness campaign

More than a dozen students who submitted artwork depicting their vision of kindness will be recognized during a special awards ceremony for the Kid’s Kindness Poster Competition next month, when their designs will become promotional posters for a broader yearlong 10,000 Acts of Kindness campaign.

More than 1,000 students from York County, Pennsylvania and beyond submitted entries for the poster competition, which tasked students with drawing or painting what kindness means to them, the York Dispatch reports.

The winners – first, second and third place finishers for high school, middle school, elementary school and pre-k/kindergarten categories, along with a few honorable mentions – will help promote York County’s 10,000 Acts of Kindness initiative, a year-long project that culminates with a 1.8 mile table in York City’s Penn Park next June.

The table will hold 10,000 spots for people nominated by community kindness ambassadors for exemplary action, and the group will join together for a multi-cultural festival, dinner and celebration in hopes of breaking a Guinness World Record.

“It’s a way to remember the 1969 York race riots in a positive way on its anniversary next year, recognize the progress that’s been made and look forward to more change, organizers said,” according to the Dispatch. “The poster competition marks the first in a series of projects to showcase student talents as the community counts down to the big celebration.”

Officials will present student poster winners with their framed artwork at a ceremony in York City on November 7, and all submissions will be on display at the city’s Marketview Arts throughout the month.

Ramona Kinard, pastor vice president of the York Black Ministers’ Association, told the Dispatch the community-wide campaign is ultimately about taking action to help others, through kindness and compassion.

“We just want each individual to be kind to one another by doing an actual action,” she said. “Not just holding a door, but doing an actual action. Going out and cutting your neighbor’s lawn, helping an elderly person, helping a child.”

Both the 10,000 Acts of Kindness campaign and poster project are aimed at getting students focused on developing positive character virtues, something researchers at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture found parents desperately want.

“The overwhelming majority of American parents (96 percent) say ‘strong moral character’ is very important, if not essential, to their child’s future,” according to the Institute’s “Culture of American Families” report.

The Random Acts of Kindness Foundation offers a wide range of resources for parents and educators to steer youngsters toward helping others, including “10 Kindness Week Ideas for Schools,” which offers daily opportunities for students to spread the love.

And while many of the activities are geared toward the foundation’s Random Acts of Kindness Week each February, nearly all involve little ways that work well to promote kind acts throughout the year.


Bullying, health issues inspire 6-year-old to spread kindness online

Illinois first-grader Ayden Cazares knows what it feels like to have a broken heart.

As a kindergartner at Ridge Elementary School in Plainfield, bullies targeted the boy by pulling down his pants, biting him and shoving him off a slide, his mother, Nelly Sainez, told the Plainfield Patch.

What the bullies likely did not know is Cazares was battling a congenital heart defect, for which he underwent surgery in August. The experience wasn’t easy, and while the now 6-year-old is recovering, he’s not sitting around sulking about his situation. Instead, he launched a Facebook page with his mother’s help to reach out to kids less fortunate than himself, to offer encouragement and help make their birthday wishes come true.

Sainez said the family came up with the idea last year when they decided to give away some of Ayden’s old toys to kids in need, and it’s since evolved into “adopting” a family for Christmas and daily video messages of support to kids who write in to the Facebook page, Aiden’s Fulfilling Your Birthday Wish.

“We found a single mom with two boys with autism and gave away toys and clothes,” Sainez said. “It just went from there.”

“He just loves making the videos,” she said.

Aiden said it’s rewarding to give presents to other kids on their birthdays, especially those who have similar stories of bullying.

“I want them to feel happy,” Cazares told CBS Chicago. “If they don’t feel happy, I don’t feel happy.”

The first-grader issued a challenge to his followers for Bullying Prevention Month in October to “be nice to someone and do something for them,” and his constant focus on others is gaining a lot of attention.

The New York-based See the Wish/Be-A-Friend Project highlighted the “6-year-old Upstander from Chicago” and collected encouraging letters from students across the country to offer support.

Through mid-October, the See the Wish campaign had collected nearly 1,000 personal letters from students commending Cazares for overcoming his life struggles and inspiring others to endure through kindness.

“You did so awesome with them, with the boys hurting you,” wrote Jaelen, a student from Texas. “You inspired me to ‘kill people with kindness.’ You are a good role model for people for all ages.”

Cazares’ experience highlights perhaps the most foundational concept of character education.

James Davison Hunter, founder of the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture, wrote in his book “The Death of Character”:

Implicit in the word character is a story. It is a story about living for a purpose that is greater than the self.

Parents and educators looking to inspire similar selfless kindness can find a variety of resources from The Great Kindness Challenge, an annual event put on by the nonprofit Kids for Peace.

The one-week event can be tailored to schools or families, and uses a checklist to help show youngsters what kindness really means. In 2018, more than 10 million students in nearly 20,000 schools carried out over 500 million acts of kindness in 103 countries during the last week in January.

“The Great Kindness Challenge provided an opportunity for our students to care for each other in ways that went above and beyond their normal interactions,” California elementary school principal Chad Lund said. “As a result, we noticed a real impact on the school’s culture with a decrease in bullying and an increase in compassion, unity and respect.”


KY students ‘choose kindness’ in the wake of tragic school shooting

Students at Kentucky’s Marshall County High School are sending a message: “We Choose Kindness.”

It’s the theme of a new 8- by 12-foot mural designed to offer hope just months after two students were killed and several others injured in a school shooting. Student Gabe Parker shot and killed 15-year-olds Bailey Hold and Preston Cope on January 23, 2018, and school officials have since installed metal detectors and other safety precautions to prevent a similar situation in the future, WDRB reports.

Those precautions are helping students regain trust, while the mural is helping students to move past the tragedy through art, while also providing a bonding experience with a powerful message.

“I hope that people can understand that being nice is really easy,” project creator Hallie Riley told WPSD.

Riley said she picked “We Choose Kindness” from 60 different mural entries because of what it represents. The image depicts three hands joining together, a testament to a culture of inclusion that will be displayed in a community kindness garden that took root in the wake of the shooting.

“I think that when they see this, they should see the hands stand out,” Riley said. “You should hold hands, and kind of join all together, and be really friendly toward one another.”

Students plan to include benches in the garden to allow students to reflect on that message and help classmates struggling with life.

“The bench just kind of means if someone sits there, you know, they’re having a rough day,” Riley said. “You don’t have to say anything to them, you don’t have to acknowledge it. You just sit there with them, and that person that is going through something knows ‘Hey, they’re there for me.”

It’s a theme students are hoping to expand well beyond their school.

“Why not spread the message of ‘We Choose Kindness’ beyond the walls of the Kindness Garden in Benton, Kentucky?” artist Kijsa Housman told WPSD. “Spread it to the ends of the state, to the ends of the nation. You know you can’t have too much kindness.”

The mural and other lessons taken from the tragedy earlier this year will undoubtedly play a key role in how students at Marshall County High School develop their moral sensibility.

James Davison Hunter, founder of the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture, points out in his book “The Death of Character”:

(W)e must acquire a moral sensibility – we learn what is right and wrong, good and bad, what is to be taken seriously, ignored, or rejected as abhorrent – and we learn, in moments of uncertainty, how to apply our moral imagination to different circumstances.

Over time, we acquire a sense of obligation and the discipline to follow them.

The education website TeachThought offers advice from the Ripple Kindness Project to help students “learn by feeling” the benefits of selfless kindness.

“It seems we just can’t get enough of those addictive feel good emotions and with good reason,” according to the column, which provides “8 Reasons For Teaching Kindness In School.” “Scientific studies have shown that kindness has a great number of physical and emotional benefits, and that children require a healthy dose of the warm and fuzzies in order to flourish as healthy, happy, well-rounded individuals.”