Students usually avoid a trip to the principal’s office, but recently a group from St. John the Apostle School couldn’t get there fast enough. And no one was more surprised than the principal herself.
The school kids had been working hard and wanted to show off the results: Dragons! The mythical creatures resulted from lots of time and lots of cooperation by student teams working with various odd materials. It had been a challenge, but they were finally done.
As they brought their dragons through the school, younger students noticed. Now, they’re eager to repeat the project when they move up.
That sort of enthusiasm is what Principal Deborah Egan, Ed.D., was looking for when she brought the Choose To Be Nice School Program to the Clark, New Jersey school. This is the second year the school is using the comprehensive program that provides a full year of suggested lessons and materials that teachers in elementary and middle schools can use to teach children about making good choices when interacting with others. The program is based on nine values that are introduced throughout the year.
The dragon project was all about teamwork. Students had to find ways to work together as they created their imaginative works of art out of paper plates, sticky notes, crayons and markers.
“I was impressed with the dragons, but I was even more impressed by how proud they were of what they had accomplished,” Egan said. “It really is so important for them to learn how to work together.”
As a Catholic school, St. John’s draws 390 students in grades pre-K through 8 from seven or eight towns. The school’s diverse student population includes many students from other countries. Egan selected the Choose To Be Nice program after looking for a school-wide way to bring students together and build strong relationships.
“I’ve been saying we needed something, but I wanted it to be ‘pro-’ rather than ‘anti-’,” Egan said. “When I saw this program, I knew it was what we were looking for. I was so excited to get started.”
At the beginning of the year, the school launched the program with a school assembly and introduced the Choose To Be Nice promise:
“I promise to Choose To Be Nice and spread kindness wherever and whenever possible.”
The students and staff were invited to make the promise and sign large banners. Those banners were hung in the middle school lobby and in a hallway to all the grades as a reminder to all of their commitment.
On the first Friday of every month, Egan introduces one of the nine values to the entire school. Those values — respect, kindness, acceptance, teamwork, honesty, responsibility, friendship, patience and courage — are reinforced in the classrooms through lessons designed for each grade.
The program has helped to harness the students’ enthusiasm for making a difference in their community, Egan said. Students are always eager to help out and now are coming up with even more things they can do.
One recent project was a partnership with nearby Caldwell University to collect sneakers to help cancer patients. Another included collecting jeans for people without homes. After storms blew through the Bahamas earlier this year, students raised money to help a struggling school there. They’ve also been collecting travel-sized products that they can wrap up and send to those in need.
In addition to the activities during the school day, the school hosts a Kindness Club that was started because of a student request. The group began meeting over the summer and has been picking up momentum. Through the club, students do extra activities for their community, such as making cards for veterans.
“It’s important that they recognize that there are so many people in their community they could help and it’s especially important that they understand how they can be a part of really making a difference,” Egan said. “What I find valuable with the Choose To Be Nice program is that it shows students what they can do and how they can respond. We want to tap into their interest in taking care of others.”
Interested in becoming a Choose To Be Nice school?