elm creek kindness tree and studentsYou don’t have to look hard to see that kindness is cool at Elm Creek Elementary. Last week, students demonstrated that sentiment in a “great” big way by celebrating their second-annual Great Kindness Challenge.

The Great Kindness Challenge is a grassroots movement that aims to inspire individuals to keep kindness top of mind. “As kindness becomes a habit, peace becomes possible,” its website proclaims.

Taking this idea to heart, Elm Creek students were engaged in various activities throughout the week, including learning a kindness pledge; surprising classmates with kind messages on sticky notes; and letting staff know just how much they are appreciated by sending them paper hearts inscribed with positive sentiments. A kindness checklist—that included items like “thank a bus driver” and “hold the door open for someone”—also kept students in a kindness frame of mind during the challenge. These activities are important because they “make a lot of people’s day better,” said fifth-grader Breanna Huynh.

“The staff here do so much for us, it was the least we could do for them,” added fourth-grader Ayden Fiengo, referring to the kindness hearts students created for Elm Creek’s staff.

“We need more people to be kind in this world,” fellow fourth-grader Chloe Tegland chimed in.

To reinforce messages of kindness, an impressive paper tree was constructed near the school’s main office and each classroom participated in a kindness decorating challenge. The winners? Susan Kapsner’s kindergarten class and their creative display that included puzzle pieces with a pledge to “be a piece of the peace.” Beth Ruud’s second-graders decorated the wall outside their classroom with a sign that read “throw kindness around like confetti” and were runners-up in the contest.

For Beth Ness, principal at Elm Creek Elementary, fostering a culture of kindness is an integral part of the work that she and her staff are committed to doing every day.

“Our words and actions matter, and students learn better in a place where they feel safe and supported,” Ness said. “This challenge was student-led and initiated, and I’m so proud of them. Our community is stronger because we are kind to each other.”

This year marks the seventh installment of The Great Kindness Challenge in the United States. The initiative is supported by Kids for Peace, a global nonprofit that seeks to create peace through youth leadership, community service, worldwide friendships, and thoughtful acts of kindness.

PHOTO: Fourth- and fifth-graders at Elm Creek Elementary pose in front of the school's kindness tree during the final day of The Great Kindness Challenge on Jan. 26.