At a harvest festival last fall at her children’s school, Rio del Mar Elementary in Aptos, Calif., Justina Bryant spotted two boys teasing a fourth-grader with a squirt gun. He was crying and begging them to stop.
“And those children weren’t listening,” recalls Bryant, 37, a marketing consultant and former teacher. Distraught, the boy bolted away from the campus, and Bryant ran after him. “Even as I was bringing him back,” she says, “the children were still taunting him.”
Bryant scolded the bullies and told the principal. But that wasn’t enough for the crusading mom, who’d often told her son, Trenten, 11, and daughter, Taylor, 9, “If you see something that needs to change, change it.”
Inspired by the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation website, (randomactsofkindness. org), Bryant volunteered to start an afterschool Kindness Club. To her surprise, one of the schoolyard bullies joined. “That basically told me that that child didn’t understand his behaviors and what they really are,” Bryant says. “It was really an eye-opener.”
Starting in December, for one hour each week, 30 club members in grades 2-6 wrote nice notes to office staff, drew pictures for the custodian and crafted kindness bookmarks to hide in the library. But Bryant wanted more. In March, she launched a 21-Day Kindness Challenge and urged Rio del Mar’s 600 students, teachers and staff to perform five daily acts of kindness. Those who witnessed the acts wrote them on thin strips of paper that were eventually linked in a 400-foot chain circling the cafeteria.
“I am just overwhelmed with emotion at how much the children have embraced it,” Bryant says. “It was amazing to see the school come together, and the community, and celebrate the good things instead of always focusing so much on the negative things.”
When administrators at another school nearby, Valencia Elementary, heard about the challenge, they decided to launch one, too. But kindergarten teacher Susan Peoples, 48, was skeptical. Her workload was already staggering and, besides, she’d seen other anti-bullying campaigns fail.
But two days into the challenge she noticed that instead of disciplining her students, she was handing out kindness slips. When a 5-year-old dropped something on the floor, Peoples says, “Five kids ran over and said, ‘I want to help!’” Aided by a local nonprofit group, Bryant has expanded the Kindness Challenge nationwide. Since May, 45 schools, including two in the United Kingdom, have contacted her. “[I want] to empower as many children as possible,” she says, “to be the change they want to be.”
5 Ways to Be Kind
• If you see someone sitting alone at a social event, invite her to join you.
• Hold the door open for a stranger.
• Write an unsigned note to thank a hard worker for all he does.
• Show empathy to a friend who is struggling.
• Let someone in front of you in line.
Education can change be a life-changer. With that in mind, CMT (Country Music Television), along with the American Association of Community Colleges’ Center for Workforce and Economic Development, recently launched the CMT Empowering Education Community College Initiative to encourage viewers of all ages to go to school—or go
back to school—in order to reach their fullest potential. Go to cmtempoweringeducation.com for more information and see a video featuring rising country hit maker Dustin Lynch, who’s serving as the initiative’s ambassador.