THE HEADLINES ARE
heartbreaking. Bullying, cyberbullying and, tragically, teen suicide are all on the rise.
More than a quarter of middle schoolers nationwide say they’ve been bullied in school and nearly as many have been cyberbullied, with the vast majority of incidents never reported to adults.
Every week, it seems, there’s another shocking incident of hatred and intolerance in our schools.
The extent of the problem, and lack of readily accessible, evidence-based resources to address it, led Stand for Children to develop the Middle School Kindness Challenge. We did this in partnership with AASA, the American Federation of Teachers, National Association of Secondary School Principals, AVID and other leading national education organizations.
The goal of the Middle School Kindness Challenge is to make kindness commonplace in middle schools and improve school climate by providing a no-cost, user-friendly platform for teachers to access high-quality, easy-to-implement lessons that help students strengthen peer relationships, build empathy and develop a positive mindset. The content on kindness building comes from leading providers including Harvard’s Making Caring Common Initiative, Facing History and Ourselves, InspirED, the Greater Good Science Center and Yale’s Center for Emotional Intelligence. All contributed their best-in-class lessons at no charge.
We intentionally created the challenge to be both impactful and easy to integrate into existing school schedules. More than 5,000 educators taught kindness-building lessons in the first cycle last fall, and the response from participating teachers was overwhelmingly positive.
As Meghan Sharp, a 7th-grade social studies teacher at Northwest Guilford Middle School in Greensboro, N.C., told us, the Middle School Kindness Challenge “set the tone and expectations for our school. Sometimes, as a classroom teacher, you only focus on your content. … To see how easy it is to throw a little kindness activity into an everyday lesson makes you more aware of how a simple change can have a big impact.”
Sharp and her middle school colleagues were pleasantly surprised to see how hungry their students were for kindness-centered activities. She chalks this up to the program’s positive reinforcement. “Instead of ‘don’t do this,’ it’s ‘look at what we can do.’ When they’re given the opportunity, they are willing to go above and beyond and focus on the positive instead of the negative,” Sharp says.
Results have been incredibly promising. The 10 middle schools in Guilford County, N.C., that completed the challenge experienced a 33 percent decrease in in-school suspensions and an 11 percent drop in out-of-school suspensions compared to the first semester of the previous school year.
When compared to district middle schools that did not participate, the results were even more pronounced. Guilford County Superintendent Sharon Contreras was so encouraged by the immediate impact, she is expanding it to all 23 district middle schools.
The current Middle School Kindness Challenge cycle runs through May 15, and AASA’s goal is for at least 50 school districts to participate. Learn more at www.middleschoolkindnesschallenge.com
or set up a 30-minute demonstration with our outreach director Daniel O’Donnell (email@example.com
is co-founder and chief executive officer of Stand for Children in Portland, Ore. Twitter: @JonahEdelman