It was all confetti and dancing last week at Arbor Creek Elementary in Olathe after students got the news that Synergy Services has named the school as Kansas City’s kindest for 2016.
Also known for the annual “Kindest Kansas Citian” contest and the “Kindness is contagious — catch it” poster, Synergy advocates for violence prevention measures and anti-bullying programs.
Along with the honor of being named the kindest school, Arbor Creek also won $5,000 from Ikea to redo a room in the school.
“This award is a celebration of kindness,” said Melanie DeMoss, principal of Arbor Creek. “It’s one of the hallmarks of Arbor Creek. When we talk about strengthening the heart, we mean it as in P.E., but … also teaching our kids to be good citizens.”
The students are involved in myriad service projects, including Noah’s Bandage Project, which collects bandages with fun patterns for kids in the hospital. They also regularly visit a former Arbor Creek teacher who lives in a local nursing home and pair up for buddy classes, where older and younger students work together on projects.
Beyond community service, the thing that stands out at Arbor Creek is the day-to-day interactions among the students, faculty and staff.
“I think there’s a commitment at every level,” said Robin Winner, executive director of Synergy. It’s “their overt commitment to interjecting the importance of being kind into every aspect of the school.”
To reward kindness on the informal level, teachers and staff can hand out kindness tokens to students they see being kind. The students may keep the tokens, pass them on when they see others being kind or put them in a container in the classroom. When a classroom gets enough tokens, they have a celebration.
Winner said that hundreds of local schools were in contention for the award, from elementary through high school.
A group of students sang a song about kindness at the assembly. They started to learn the song two weeks before, but none of them knew that the school had won the award until just before the assembly, when they were called to the school office.
“We all thought we were in trouble,” said 11-year-old Bella Davis.
Once they found out about the award, “I was like, ‘Oh my goodness gracious,’ ” said 11-year-old Maren Holt.
Kathy Reschke, the school’s counselor, submitted an essay about the school to apply for the award.
“I shared all the things we do throughout the year,” Reschke said. “The things that I’m most impressed with are the things that are not directed.”
When a student lost a parent, two other students who had previously lost a parent wanted to reach out to this student.
“That was the start of the Kindness Club,” Reschke said. “It’s an everyday thing for many of our kids to be kind. ... It’s like the air you breathe. This kindness is coming in and out all the time.”
The kids knew they were in contention for the award and made cards to thank Synergy for considering their school before the announcement of the win. Reschke said one of her favorite cards was one that read, “Whether we win or lose, we will still be kind.”
Beth Lipoff: firstname.lastname@example.org