When Orchard Elementary School parent Melissa noticed adults in her Ridgewood, New Jersey community acting in unkind ways towards each other, she knew that something had to be done. She had spoken with her own three children about the need for kindness in our society, but dreamed of bringing the message to her community on a larger scale. Noticing her son’s reaction to the unkind behavior of adults in his midst, she realized that schools were the perfect place to start. If children learn to treat people kindly in their youth, these values will stretch into adulthood. Today’s children are tomorrow’s adults.
But how was Melissa to begin her quest for kindness? After an online search, she came across Choose To Be Nice. The values meshed perfectly with her vision of creating a more caring, compassionate community. She had found her answer.
Though the Ridgewood Public Schools already had a robust social emotional curriculum in place, Principal Mary Ferreri was drawn to the simplicity of the Choose To Be Nice message, and welcomed the program with open arms. By the second year of the program, it had spread district wide, and all 6 elementary schools in Ridgewood, New Jersey are now proud to call themselves Choose To Be Nice schools!
How Does Orchard Elementary School Choose To Be Nice?
Each month, Orchard Elementary chooses one of the nine Choose To Be Nice values to focus on as a theme. All students, from Kindergarten through 5th grade, read the same book with their class at the beginning of the month, and use it as a starting point for discussion of the monthly theme. Teachers incorporate the monthly theme throughout their lessons, and weave the Choose To Be Nice message throughout the entire school experience.
Once a week, the whole school comes together for a Community Building Assembly, where the actions of children who embody the monthly theme are highlighted and celebrated by the entire school population.
You may think that such a wonderful program itself is the highlight, but there is so much more!
The Cafetorium of the Orchard Elementary School was drab and boring, having not been updated in over 20 years. Parents and staff had long been wanting to celebrate the amazing ways their children were living the Choose To Be Nice values. What if they surprised the kids with a Choose To Be Nice themed update to the cafetorium? Could they pull off a surprise on such a large scale?
Highlighting the Choose To Be Nice values in a timeless way, a parent who works as a graphic designer created silhouettes of children doing activities that represent each value. Over five days during February break, parents, staff, and volunteers from the local high school art classes worked tirelessly to create floor to ceiling murals on the walls. A bottle cap mural that was created by students was incorporated into the design. The end result is nothing short of amazing!
When students returned to school after vacation, they walked into what they thought was their normal weekly assembly to find a beautiful representation of kindness surrounding them. A concrete representation of the Choose To Be Nice values they work so hard to live each day! Their excitement and joy was unparalleled!
Choose To Be Nice has created a new culture in Orchard Elementary School
Though Choose To Be Nice is a simple concept, it is quite meaningful to Orchard Elementary School. Some concepts may be difficult for students to understand – but everyone knows how it feels when someone is kind to them. Students are consistently challenged to think about what kind of person they want to be in society, not just now, but when they grow up. Through the simple concept of kindness, they are delving into more complex issues like equality, cultural differences, and varying opportunities. Their consistent exposure to compassionate and respectful treatment is helping to create life skills that will follow them to adulthood. The phrase Choose To Be Nice is now engrained into who they are.
A student said it best after the big Cafetorium reveal:
“I am so glad that you brought Choose To Be Nice to my school! I can see the difference in how kids treat each other. Everyone is nicer to each other now, and I like it!”