Building Community and Kindness
What can kindness look like? What can we do to spread acts of kindness? How can we lead others to “choose kind”? Our young leaders in student government asked themselves these questions as a result of our school’s reading of Wonder by R.J. Palacio. The book was our faculty summer read. In September, students were greeted with a bulletin board displaying the words “When given the choice between being right and being kind, choose kind,” a quote made famous by the book. Teachers shared the book with students as a read-aloud through the year, and the resultant conversations took place during Darchei Noam, our social-emotional development curriculum. Kindness quickly took root. Students brought in personal copies of Wonder to read on their own. Families purchased the book at our book fairs. Teachers challenged students to write original precepts and posted them around school.
Our student government was moved by what was taking place and wanted to take on kindness as a theme for their work. After being inspired by a “Kindness Generator” shown to them by our makerspace teacher, they began to brainstorm how to move beyond talking. Enter coding. All students at Perelman learn to code. As a modality of creative expression, we consider coding to be as valuable a skill as writing.
Our student leaders got to work on a coding project to help others actively “choose kind.” Using Scratch, a visual programming language created by the Lifelong Kindergarten group at the MIT Media Lab, students created an interactive game called The Kindness Wheel. A single click causes an animated wheel to spin several times, then randomly stop at a “spoke” labeled with an act of kindness (like “Hold the door” or “Make a new friend”). Student leaders spent meetings identifying ways for our community to be kind, creating the art and writing the code. The students decided that the best way to share their work was to record this game in action and include it in their weekly video to the school community, thereby announcing the “Kind” for the week.
This tool now exists for our new student leaders. Who is to say if they will use it exactly as designed? Maybe they will change the art. Maybe they will “look under the hood” and adjust the code so others experience it directly as a video game. Perhaps they’ll develop a different tool to help others be kind. The beauty of this project is that students used their coding skills to create a personally meaningful project. The deep, creative thinking that came as a result of the values and skills our community upholds and puts into action lives beyond this one group of young leaders.