This school year finally feels like a return to normal for many families and educators in Chicago Public Schools, but there is no glossing over how much has changed due to COVID-19, especially for Beard Elementary.
Beard Elementary is a specialty school within the Chicago Public School system, and staff were required to come back to in person learning in January 2021, before most of CPS was scheduled to return. Staff met this mandate with ease and grace. The staff at Beard were able to come back to in person learning with the accommodations and safety precautions put in place to teach students and assist them with adjusting to in-person academic and social emotional learning which included incorporating the Teach Kindness curriculum.
At Beard Elementary, over 50% of our student population receives special education support. Teach Kindness offers accessible activities that resonate with every age and academic level, from pre-K to 3rd grade, including our diverse learners.
There were several key factors to why a focus on kindness was paramount for the 2022-23 academic year. In tandem with returning back to in-person learning, there was the expansion of our school with the addition of a 10-classroom annex and new staff. The staff needed to find ways to build community and rapport with each other. Teach Kindness helped us do just that.
With the return to in person learning, and the focus on kindness to each other, the following activities were completed:
● Mirroring My Feelings – Our students enjoyed the “Mirror My Feelings” activity, where they looked at pictures and studied each other’s facial expressions and body language to decipher how someone might be feeling.
● Acts of Kindness – Students drew pictures of what they thought were acts of kindness and within the diverse learner population they were given a choice board to detail what their acts of kindness were.
● Personal Slogan – The preschool classrooms sang songs and created word clouds that described themselves and recognized their own personal strengths. You have to be kind to yourself before you can show kindness to others. This helped boost their self-confidence within the classroom. Kindergarten through 3rd grade classrooms developed choice boards about positive statements of themselves.
● Art of Apology – Through the “Art of Apology” activity, our 2nd and 3rd graders learned how to say, “I’m sorry” and mean it.
A special education teacher here at Beard, Jamie Chiostri, mentioned that a lot of times, kids become so rote in saying “I’m sorry” because that’s what they think we want to hear. This activity gave them a chance to put a meaning behind those words by first trying to understand what makes a person feel hurt in the first place.
The school counselor, Andrea Patrinos, noted that despite all the changes in the world and at school, one quality remained steadfast: kindness to others. While facilitating the engaging lessons and activities for our students, she noticed our staff started to practice kindness in our everyday interactions at school — and our students noticed.
We’ve used Teach Kindness for several years now, and each year we’ve grown and really taken the mission of the program to heart. Teaching kindness is not a single lesson. Kindness is taught throughout the school day and embedded into all of our daily activities. We have witnessed the benefits of modeling kindness to our students and the ‘ah-ha’ moments when they extend and experience kindness to their peers. We have noticed the palpable sense of community in our school, both among students and staff. It’s a big and welcome change to see how far we’ve come since the pandemic.
Our school’s story proves that every school can — and should — Teach Kindness.