“We go through the toll and pay for the person behind us.”
The words escape a student with shining eyes as he sits up from his beanbag. We’re nestled in the reading corner of Jane and Halina’s fifth grade class. It’s February 6th, and Mulberry School
is kicking off its 21-Day Kindness Challenge
Just 15 minutes before, we’re all gathered inside the school “hub”—a central gathering space and stage. 100 students, pre-K through 5th grade, had filed in for their weekly morning assembly. As usual, they start off with a round of songs, and then teachers Jane and Michele introduce a new idea: 21-days of Kindness.
After a brief video
, Anne, Bradley and I get to share a few stories from our own experiences.
Anne shares about a 21-day kindness challenge at her local elementary school in Marin—how one boy began helping his mother cut vegetables for dinner without being asked, and how another student noticed a classmate alone at recess and invited her to play. Bradley takes the stage and talks about his family experience
making bag lunches and going to San Francisco to gift them to the homeless. Then his daughter captures everyone’s attention with a video clip of her sharing ways kids can be kind to their parents. :)
On top of that, Bradley had brought 120 bookmarks with the quote: “Somewhere inside all of us is the power to change the world.” The night before, he had stayed up late making them, and as he gifts them up to the students, one boy comes up and tells him, “I gifted mine to someone who didn’t have any.”
I recall a story of a rickshaw driver in India who buys crackers and puts them outside on a plate everyday.
“Why would he do that?” I asked. Eager hands spring up.
“To feed the birds,” a young girl offers.
“For nature,” another boy states.
I guess it’s not a trick question. :) Then I follow-it-up with a parallel story on the ripple effect of kindness: Third grader, Jasper heard the rickshaw driver’s story one night. The next morning, he crumpled up some of his toast on a plate and put it outside to feed the ants, birds, and nature. :)
After our stories, Jane and Michele bring attention to the poster flip chart on stage that reads, “21-Day Kindness Challenge”. For each day of the challenge, they’ll peel off the chart-paper to reveal a new kindness idea of the day. Today is Day 1 and the idea is: Smile.
The teachers have also been steadily cloaking the school with love through their artful designs. They schemed up a scavenger hunt of kindness ideas, where, each day, students can look for a new flyer with the daily idea posted somewhere in the school.
They also crafted a vibrant Kindness Tree on the bulletin board by the office. Throughout the month, all the students will fill it by writing acts of kindness they see, do, or receive and post it on the board.
The assembly closes with Nimo’s To My People
video, and the students filter out while singing a song. We zip over to the second grade classroom—and, while seated in a circle on their reading rug, the students enthusiastically leap up to raise their hands and tell us about their Kindness Shop—a cart with handmade goods that they gift to others during recess and after school. Their teacher, Lisa, sports one of their handmade smile pins, and Anne mentions that she is going to share all their ideas with her local elementary school.
From second grade, we head to Jane and Halina’s fifth grade classroom. After a minute of silence, Anne leads us in an activity to pair up for 10 seconds and express kindness without words. Students high-five and shake hands. Some smile and hug. Four fifth grade boys lean back on the couch, looking super cool and with their arms around each others shoulders. No words are necessary. :)
We then pull out a smile card and start sharing a toll booth story. “Oh, I’ve done that!” one student remarks. He kicks off a popcorn sharing of our own experiments in kindness:
“My dad likes to buy coffee for the person behind him.”
“Yesterday, I saw a homeless man looking through the garbage for food, and I bought him a burger. I could tell he had been eating from the garbage for the last few days and I wanted to give him a fresh meal.”
Jane recalls being at a drive-thru and how a car of teenage girls pulled in front of her family. “They drove away looking at us, and when we pulled up to the window, they said our dinner was all paid for.”
She observed that it was extra special because most teenagers don’t have that much money to spare—and these girls decided to spend their money to pay for a stranger’s meal.
Co-teacher Halina remembered Bradley’s story of bringing bag lunches with his family, and shared how she and her family bring water bottles and granola bars to give to the homeless as well.
Absorbed in each other’s stories around the circle, time slipped past in an instant. We gather around the Kindness Tree for a group photo, and linger in small conversations. Anne and a few others scan the courtyard for a place to plant the daphne plant she had brought to gift to the school as a seed of kindness that the students can nurture and grow. It was her mother's favorite plant, and this particular one is banded with a turquoise bow, with a handwritten poem perched against its young trunk:
Kind hearts are the gardens
Kind thoughts are the roots
Kind words are the blossoms
The deeds are the fruits.
We say our goodbyes, to the staff and students, including Amy and Kara—whose sense of humor and care inspire us to see administrators and faculty collaborating with such labor-of-love ease. A-buzz with the morning’s stories and energy, we head out to the parking lot. I smile as we walk past the warm yellow glow of classroom windows and doors.
Outside the skies are overcast, but the spirit inside is bright and as full of possibility as ever.