Middle school students sometimes act sillier than they should and when they do, accidents can happen. Like spilling coffee all over a piece of artwork that their teacher had spent a long time on.
It was disappointing and a bit upsetting, but Shari Sharp realized she had been handed a valuable teaching moment. She had the opportunity to put into action the school’s recently launched Choose To Be Nice Program. Rather than getting angry with the students, she talked calmly with them about the mistake and how they could move on. The students reacted better than she could have anticipated. They took responsibility and quickly apologized.
The Choose To Be Nice program gives students and teachers at Northley Middle School in Aston, PA, tools they can use to manage their interactions to avoid conflicts as well as proactively support each other. These concepts are helping to build a culture of kindness at the suburban school outside of Philadelphia. That’s a large and important task for a school that brings together more than 800 students from four elementary schools.
School administrators discovered Choose To Be Nice when they were looking for a program to help with conflicts they were seeing within the school.
“It came to a head towards the end of the year and I knew we had to do something differently,” said Acting Principal, Joel Alutius. “We were making a code of conduct change, but we knew that a code of conduct wouldn’t change attitudes.”
With a curriculum that features nine traits related to kindness, the Choose To Be Nice program fosters a proactive approach to building relationships that encourages students to think about how they interact with others.
“Every child knows what it means to be nice, and they know what it’s like to be treated nicely,” he said. “It’s the perfect message. And, I like that we can use it throughout the school.”
The effort to integrate the program’s lessons into the classroom has been spearheaded by Christa Ventura and a Choose To Be Nice Committee that includes Colleen Miller (6th grade), Nicki Sayre (counselor), Colleen Kelly (7th grade), Jessica Wooleyhan (6,7,8 Math), Jen Coffman (Librarian/Media Lit), Renee DiPietro (gifted).
“The group represents all grades and areas of support,” Alutius said. “They volunteered enthusiastically. This group of teachers models and lives the “Choose To Be Nice” values each day.”
As part of promoting unity, the school uses the tagline, “We are Northley.” The Choose To Be Nice program falls in line with the tagline encouraging students to see each other as part of one cohesive, supportive community regardless of what elementary school they came from.
Choose To Be Nice in Art
Along with embracing the Choose To Be Nice program to guide her work with students, art teacher Shari Sharp has integrated the Choose To Be Nice message with several art projects and Art Club Junior, a group of 37 sixth graders who meet weekly to work on crafts and school-wide art projects.
One of those projects was a giant “photo station” for the cafeteria. Sharp cut out big letters from cardboard and the students painted them. Students stand next to the “N” in photo ops so they can be the “I” in “Nice.”
The club is also making Choose To Be Nice themed keychains, earrings, and magnets that can be sold to support the program.
Choose To Be Nice and the Northley Values
In addition to the classroom curriculum, Choose To Be Nice has become a focal point for the PBiS Student Committee (Positive Behavioral Interventions and Support). This is a group of students who meet every other week to work on leadership skills and play a key role in managing the school’s reward store.
Students throughout the school can earn points when they uphold the Northley values: be respectful, be responsible, be ready. They can then use those points to buy things from the store such as markers, pens, Play Dough and stress balls, especially popular around test-taking time. Students can save their rewards and use them for a special activity such as pumpkin painting or making Ice Cream Sundaes.
The committee has been growing since it was first put into place four years ago, and this year is the biggest ever.
“The lessons we’re learning through Choose To Be Nice really go well with the Northley values,” said advisor Colleen Miller. “Being respectful and being nice really go hand in hand. You can’t respect someone and be mean to them at the same time.”
The program has helped students to be proactive rather than reactive, she said. They are learning to think about how they can respond and contemplate what they could have done differently when things don’t go well.
“They see Choose To Be Nice as a way for them to say the right thing and to do the right thing,” Miller said. “It gives them a voice.”
Throughout the year, teachers will be guiding students as they come up with new ideas to use the Choose To Be Nice concepts.
“We’re just scratching the surface of how we can tap into these kids and partner with them,” she said.