At Heard County Middle/High School in Franklin, Ga., its okay for students to plaster the walls and lockers with stuff they like.
Thats because one of the things theyve come to like best is helping others, as evidenced by the rows of paper shoes virtually covering the hallways to mark their recent fund-raising efforts for March of Dimes Walk America.
Many of the kids in question areor have beenstudents of Stephanie Kemmerlin Hyatt, a social studies teacher who, in 1993, initiated A Good Deed A Day, an assignment for her sixth- and seventh-graders.
Since then, her students have averaged about 25,000 good deeds annually, the only exception being the 1999/2000 school year, when Kemmerlin Hyatt was on maternity leave. Even in her absence, the students carried on informally.
Some deeds are small, such as mowing a neighbors lawn, baby-sitting for free, or unloading the dishwasher for Mom (although some moms might, in fact, consider this one a miracle). But more and more actions are broad in scale, such as Thanksgiving food drives, clothing and toy drives, and disaster relief. Her studentsalong with the rest of the schoolraised more than $5,000 for the March of Dimes.
Theyre really excited about it, Kemmerlin Hyatt says, adding that the good deed program is by far her students favorite assignment. They love it. They love to keep tabs on their deeds.
It was her 15-year-old daughter, Courtney Kemmerlin, who at age 9 actually sparked the idea for the program. After helping an elderly woman with her shopping cart, Courtney remarked, Well, I did my good deed for today.
Light bulb on. Kemmerlin Hyatt envisioned a good deed assignment as the perfect way to not only shake things up in the classroom, but also to teach her students socially responsive behavior and involve them in real-life problem solving and critical thinking.
I wanted them to be good citizens in the future and practice civic ideals, she says.
Being the progressive type, she decided to give her students a choice: write a quarterly report on a famous humanitarian, or do one good deed a daywithout being askedand keep a journal about it.
It was an easy decision.
The students looked at each other and said, Hey, that sounds kinda neat, Kemmerlin Hyatt recalls.
Funny thing is, though, the effects of this program have reached further than she ever imagined. It went over so well with her own students that she challenged schools throughout the United States to follow suit. In Georgia alone, 300 schools accepted, as did many more throughout the country. That makes for an awful lot of good deeds.
And just as importantly, Kemmerlin Hyatts students have fulfilled the primary goal of the program, carrying the A Good Deed A Day sentiment with them long after graduating from her classroom.
At Heard County High School, located at the same site as the middle school, students confirm the programs effects.
At first, we had to do it. Now, its a habit. And you get praise when you get back to school, says senior Laurel Davis.
Junior Angelia Hill says of the daily journals, Thats the reward. You got to look back and see how much you did.
Freshman Brandon McDaniel also encourages his cousin to help others. He explains simply, It makes you feel good to do good deeds.
And do the parents like it? You better believe it.
No one complains about their child acting better, Kemmerlin Hyatt says with a knowing smile. Ive gotten very positive remarks over the years, with notes and phone calls.
Says senior Kevin Hayes, At first, they (parents) thought we just wanted something. They couldnt believe it.
Kemmerlin Hyatt sums up A Good Deed A Day, now promoted by the National Council for the Social Studies:
I think its helped develop a sense of responsibility and empathy for the less fortunate. And theyre more aware of local and national issues and whats going on in the world.
Kemmerlin Hyatt and her students have received plenty of regional and national recognition for their efforts. The teacher has received letters from President Clinton and U.S. Secretary of Education Richard Riley, and CNN filmed a segment at the school. But that recognition, while greatly appreciated, doesnt come close to matching the programs true benefit.
Sure, theyve gotten national attention, but whats so much more important is how much fun they get out of it.