VANDALIA — As our society seems to become more crass and less polite by the day, students and staff at Morton Middle School are trying to reverse that trend at the school and, by extension, the Vandalia-Butler community.
In its second year, Morton’s kindness initiative was the brainchild of teachers Amy Stein and Lisa Erdahl. Looking for a new approach to character education, their idea of a “Dude, be kind” campaign has become part of the culture for Morton’s students in grades 6-8.
“For years we were doing character themes through National Junior Honor Society (NJHS) whose pillars are leadership, citizenship, character, service, and scholarship,’ said Stein. “All was geared toward putting character back in the classroom. We love the word dude and it seems like a de-escalating word, dude kind of softens it, it is a little less tattly, and we tried to find something middle school appropriate. It’s a fun way for kids to keep each other accountable to watch their words and actions.”
A Kindness Committee was formed as a sub-committee of the NJHS where students come up with ideas to encourage and ingrain kindness. Taryn Butler, and eighth grader who heads the committee, said being kinder is not just for students at school.
“I feel like kindness is a big part of what the world in general needs to work on,” said Butler. “Whether you are in middle school, or any other part of life, kindness will help a lot of issues. We want everyone, students, teachers, staff, to be kind to each other and hopefully that spreads out into the community.”
Each year, students pledge and sign a banner to be kind in both words and actions. In October and April, students participate in 20 days of kindness where students are given ideas and examples daily of ways they can be kind in their daily lives. Students are also encouraged to give “shout-outs” weekly to acknowledge kindness they have received from both students and teachers.
Their brightly colored t-shirts are worn once a month as a reminder to always be kind. Bracelets with “Dude, be kind” are also very popular with students.
“The kids have come up with a lot of great ideas this year,” said Erdahl. “They run the Instagram page, and have really bought into it.”
“We just want the kids to realize, small or large, that they can make a positive impact on people,” said Stein. “Be aware of their words and actions and realize the affect they have on other people. If we are constantly reminding them, eventually it becomes a habit. It can be grand gestures, but more often its small stuff.”
Reach Darrell Wacker at (937) 684-8983 or on Twitter @VandaliaDrummer.