Each year at the end of 4th grade, dozens of students fill out their very first job applications. Pouring their thoughts into heartfelt essays, they detail some of the amazing qualities they possess. Hopeful hands submit their documents, and then they wait.
A committee of teachers compares applications and essays, interviews previous years educators, and after a careful selection process, the ambassadors are chosen.
The highest honor that can be bestowed upon an incoming 5th grader at the Hopkins Elementary School in Mentor, Ohio is that of Choose To Be Nice Ambassador.
Each classroom throughout the K-5 school has a Choose To Be Nice Ambassador assigned to it. These students exemplify what it takes to be a positive role model: kind at heart, dedicated to their school work, and respectful to those around them. Throughout their fifth grade year, these students take on the role of educators for their younger counterparts. They create a skit to perform as a kick-off for the Choose To Be Nice program, and perform it at the first school wide assembly of the year. Each month, they attend meetings to plan the Choose To Be Nice curriculum for the year, choosing or creating stories, games and activities to share with the younger students. Once a month, they enter the classrooms and teach the lessons they have dedicated themselves to preparing. Though they are only children themselves, they provide immeasurable lessons to the younger students in their school.
Though things look a bit different this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Choose To Be Nice Ambassadors have adapted with stunning resilience. Instead of walking into classrooms to present their lessons, they instead take the reigns as the host of the class Zoom meetings, and teach in the virtual realm.
The Choose To Be Nice Ambassadors are physical representations of the program in action.
Since the start of the Ambassador program, staff has noticed a tangible change in the atmosphere at Hopkins. The dialogue between students and staff has shifted into a far more positive light than in years past. Where staff used to discuss how not to bully others, the conversation now turns to how to choose kind words and actions instead. When students are sent to the office for unkind behavior, they now fill out a Think Sheet detailing the Choose To Be Nice themes instead of facing immediate punishment. In this way, they are able to look back on their actions and decide for themselves if they feel that they have broken their Choose To Be Nice promise. They are learning that not every mean action is bullying, and not every unkind incident is on purpose. Sometimes, a lapse in judgement causes an unwanted behavior simply because they are children, and they don’t yet understand how their words or actions affect others. Children are taking responsibility for their own behavior and actions, learning from the consequences, and creating a mutual respect between themselves and their educators.
The role of a Choose To Be Nice Ambassador is not complete once they graduate from their time at Hopkins, Principal Christine Miley explains. Many students are anxious as they reach middle and high school age, but take comfort in seeing the kind, friendly faces of their former Ambassadors in the hallways at their new schools. Choose To Be Nice Ambassadors continue to spread kindness long after their time in elementary school is complete.
It may seem as if the Ambassador program at Hopkins is enough of an achievement, but it is just one of the many facets of their involvement as a Choose To Be Nice school.
Students begin each school year signing the Choose To Be Nice banner, and making the promise. Throughout the school year, they seek to embody the Choose To Be Nice principles, both in the classroom and beyond. They have embraced the use of Buddy Benches, which were donated by a local company. Students have connected with residents of local nursing homes to share their infectious happiness. And, every month, teachers choose up to 3 students from their classrooms who truly embody the theme of the month. These students are honored by receiving certificates, lanyards, bracelets, and having their picture displayed prominently in the school. They are presented with these awards at the culmination of a “Clap-Through” ceremony, in which every student and teacher lines the hallways of the school cheering and clapping as they walk by. A true representation of kindness by everyone, as they celebrate the accomplishments of others!
Through their innovative approach to the Choose To Be Nice program, the Hopkins Elementary School is making the world a kinder place, one smile at a time.