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In November, Mallory Pillsbury’s third-grade class completed the Certified Kind Classroom Challenge, which encouraged students to fill a jar with marbles for every act of kindness they took on.
One hundred thirty marbles later, Pillsbury and her Yorktown Elementary School students say the kindness continues, even though the competition has come to an end.
“I think kindness is important because when you help, it makes people feel better, and it’ll go on to another person,” said third-grader Trinity Jackson.
Pillsbury, a first-year teacher at Yorktown, said she had learned about the nationwide contest over the summer and decided it would be a “fantastic” opportunity for her classroom.
She said she was familiar with the inspiration for the contest, R.J. Palacio’s “Wonder,” a novel about a boy born with a facial deformity and the importance of accepting others who are different.
Pillsbury’s class was eager to take on the challenge when they learned they would be competing with schools around the country, she said. The first 500 classrooms to complete the challenge received a “Choose Kind” banner for their schools.
Whenever students performed a kind deed they recounted it to Pillsbury before adding a marble to the jar. If a student helped another student, that student would verify the account.
“It was working on relationships. It was working on honesty and being trustworthy,” Pillsbury said.
Pillsbury’s class started adding marbles in early September and reached the rim of the Mason jar in early November, finishing among the first 500 classrooms. All 24 students participated and added at least one marble, Pillsbury said.
Acts of kindness ranged from picking up pencils to picking up peers when they fell down. Students practiced kindness in the classroom, on the playground and at home.
Third-grader Lacey Williams said she has shown kindness by taking on new responsibilities.
“I like helping my mom because she always takes out the trash, but because I’m nine [years old] now I take it out for her,” Williams said.
Third-grader Xavier Ransome said kindness is about “making people feel better and always being by their side,” and chooses kind deeds that support others.
“Whenever someone is really sad, I usually play with them to make them feel better,” Ransome said.
Pillsbury said she continues to observe acts of kindness from her students – some play with other children during recess while others clean up cafeteria tables when their peers leave trash behind.
One student helps second-graders practice reading; another gave Pillsbury apples when she had a cold.
“It’s all little things, but to them it’s the biggest thing in the world,” Pillsbury said. “You see it on their faces that they’re so excited they helped someone out.”
She said she enforces the “Choose Kind” acceptance and anti-bullying messages in the classroom as much as she can.
Every Friday students take turns saying one kind thing about a classmate, an activity that ends once every student has been recognized. She has also started reading “Wonder” to her class – the book was not available through the library until after the contest ended, Pillsbury said.
She said the full Mason jar is a tangible reminder for the students to be kind when bullying and teasing threaten the classroom environment.
“Every time I shake that marble jar, it can really make a difference in this room,” Pillsbury said.
The kindness coming from Pillsbury’s class has not gone unnoticed around the school. Assistant Principal Alicia Manning said Pillsbury’s class has embraced new students in a “very natural” and “compassionate” way, which is particularly important for military children whose families have relocated to the area.
“Her group has done a remarkable job welcoming students,” Manning said. “It truly helps students when they’re well-received by their peers.”
Pillsbury said she plans to incorporate the challenge in her classroom next year, but instead of competing with classrooms across the country, students will be encouraged to fill the jar faster than the previous third-grade class.