Thiessen told her third-grade students in 2018, 'If we could be that spark of kindness, we could inspire others to do acts of kindness.'
Most schools give importance to how well students can do in math or science often, but life skills or social skills are rarely prioritized. However, a teacher, Jennifer Thiessen, thinks differently and makes sure that her students are well-equipped for life, according to The Washington Post. “That’s the stuff that I feel is really important for them to learn and carry forward in their lives,” Thiessen said. According to her, encouraging these skills was as critical as students knowing how to multiply and divide or differentiate between nouns and pronouns.
“There are so many important life lessons I wanted to teach them outside of the curriculum,” said Thiessen. She is a teacher at Canada's Watson Elementary School in Chilliwack, British Columbia. Thiessen discussed her concerns with a fellow teacher, Kyla Stradling, and they together came up with a plan. They gave their students a project which was related to spreading goodwill. They called it the "Kindness Project."
Thiessen told her third-grade students in 2018, "If we could be that spark of kindness, we could inspire others to do acts of kindness." And the students did wonders. Students from two different third-grade classes made cupcakes at home and sold them for $1 during the bake sales in school. They made about $400 from it and then used it for buying small gifts like bouquets of flowers, dog treats, chocolate bars, and coffees. They then gave it out to strangers near the school.
Thiessen shared that the students "felt joy inside of them" and felt like they did something that actually "mattered." Talking about the experience they had with people, the teacher said that the gift recipients seemed "caught off guard" in the beginning. But they accepted the gifts when they realized what the project was about, some were even in tears. “This is a lesson we can’t teach in a classroom,” Thiessen said.
After this experience, Thiessen decided to make it an annual activity for third-graders at the school. “This project isn’t about who can read the best and who is best at math,” she said. “This is an everybody project. It doesn’t have any limitations when it comes to ability.”
The school has carried out the Kindness Project for the last five years. The students run bake sales to raise money and then each class adds its own spin to the assignment. During the pandemic, the students collected funds and then made care packages for front-line workers. “Every year, we sit down with them and ask them how they want to spend the money,” Thiessen said. “We want them to be part of the process.”
Due to the project's success, the school involved five classes, three third-graders, second, and fourth-graders. They sold cupcakes every week in February at the school and in five weeks, collected more than $1000 in funds. It's not only about raising money, Thiessen said, they also read books on kindness and do kindness writing activities. Moreover, they also decorate cards that explain the project.
This year, the 100 students were divided into many groups, focussed on different initiatives. Some wrote cards, others bought small gifts to give to strangers, and another group put together care packages for homeless children and teenagers, one made a “teacher appreciation bin” with goodies and treats and dropped it at nearby schools.
On March 15, these groups carried out various kindness missions. Some students were at coffee shops near the school helping strangers to buy beverages, while some children waited at a local park to give out dog treats and fresh flowers. “This is the first time they’ve been so outgoing. They were really quick to jump in and want to do it,” Thiessen told The Chilliwack Progress. “They’ve just been so positive about all of it.”
Besides beginning a chain of kindness within the community, the teacher wants to show students what they are capable of. “I think what I want most for them is to know that it doesn’t matter where you come from or how old you are, you can do something that is good,” Thiessen said.