Random kindness

By CK Wolfson - April 6, 2006

(From left) tenth-grader Truman French, co-chairman Sandy Mincone, and ninth-graders Mike Capen and Tad Gold gather around a table in the cafeteria celebrating the week-long program. Photo by CK Wolfson

It is a simple idea: Be nice and pass it on. And just as with most essential truths, this one took hold and became contagious.

Random Acts of Kindness Week at Martha's Vineyard Regional High School was a week of activities to raise consciousness, make a positive impact, and show students that one person can make a difference.

And it worked.

By Friday a visitor to the high school could sense a spirit of generosity in the cafeteria, classrooms, and hallways. Ninth grader Cody Chandler watched fellow students holding doors open for each other. "I think it's pretty cool," he admitted.

A door held opened; one student carrying things for another; sentences that began with "please," and ended with "thank you," it all made a difference.

The idea was turned into a reality by Sandy Mincone, health and physical education teacher at the regional high school, and Teresa Temple, mother of students Alexa and Zoe Fisher. Inspired by a segment on the Oprah television show which Ms. Mincone saw, the two women teamed up to plan different activities for each day of the week.

Students were asked to donate their spare change to charity, "Change for Change," which they voted to donate to the Jimmy Fund. They wrote up the acts of kindness they witnessed and posted them on the cafeteria bulletin board. Courtesy dollars were awarded for observable good deeds, and anyone who earned five received a free ice cream sundae at an after-school party.

Tuesday was "Send a Smile Day," in which thoughtful notes, anonymous or signed, were written by students and teachers and delivered to homerooms. Ms. Temple said, "This made it easier for the kids to try things and say things"

Wednesday was "Mix It Up for Lunch Day," which grouped students randomly with each other at their lunch tables.

Business education teacher Leo Frame collected school supplies for the disadvantaged school children in Puerta Plata, in the Dominican Republic. It is a project he and his wife, art teacher Janice Frame initiated after visiting there. "We were appalled by the conditions, and decided to make a difference," Mr. Frame said.

Everything seemed to produce its desired affect and principal Peg Regan expressed the possibility that Random Acts of Kindness was likely to become an annual event.

Library media specialist Sandy Mott noticed it. "I think because the teachers have invested themselves in the plans the kids have responded and have tried to do more," she said. She laughed and admitted that when she extended someone an extra library privilege during the week, she informed them, "Now, this is a random act of kindness."

Teaching assistant Tony Lombardi helped ninth grader Colin Hurd write his piece for the Random Acts of Kindness essay contest. With thoughtful insight, Mr. Hurd wrote: "It's easier for some people to be nice, than kind."

Ms. Temple thought the contest added a special aspect to the week. She described the students' essays as being, "very poignant," and said, "It's not just about what one can do differently this week. It's about reflecting, and writing is a reflective act."

Both Ms. Mincone and Ms. Temple plan on seeing that all of the 45 students who submitted essays are acknowledged with certificates and with gifts from community donations.

"The interesting thing is, I don't think it is going to stop," Ms. Temple said.

Ms. Mincone agreed. "We thought a lot of kids might think this was goofy, but we've seen a lot of smiles and a lot of pride." Summing it up, she said, "And even if kids got a little goofy opening doors and complimenting each other, it was all good."

The Random Acts of Kindness™ Foundation, www.actsofkindness.org, was established in 1995 as a private nonprofit organization.