Saugus district prepares for the Great Kindness Challenge

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The Saugus Union School District’s governing board approved a resolution Tuesday evening for its participation in the Great Kindness Challenge, which kicks off Jan. 23, with the purpose of having students and families perform as many kind deeds as possible.  

The Great Kindness Challenge was launched in 2011 by Kids for Peace, a nonprofit based in Carlsbad. The challenge has grown into a movement with nearly 17 million students from 33,000 schools in 115 countries, according to the agenda. 

Saugus district students have participated in the challenge in the last two years, according to Michelle Barries, assistant superintendent of student support services for the district. 

“The Great Kindness Challenge is an annual activity that we have participated in,” Barries said. “It’s a focus on social-emotional learning program that is also anti-bullying in that it’s really proactive and positive for our students.” 

Barries said students are taught what it means to be kind. Students will be given a checklist of random acts of kindness or things that they can do around their schools or community as part of the event. 

The goal for students is to perform as many of these as possible during the week. In addition, the Saugus district will kick off its spirit week with assemblies and themed days like pajama day.  

“Focusing on kindness and gratitude really helps promote a positive attitude and positive climate for all involved,” wrote Barries and Tonya Nowakowski, coordinator of student support services, in an email. “It is something tangible that everyone can get involved with and can extend into the student’s home and community.” 

The Great Kindness Challenge changes year to year with a different motto and what lessons and activities are brought into the class, according to Saugus district officials.  

“The lessons are based on the current needs, trends on what we see will be most impactful with students, and there is also a family component,” wrote Barries and Nowakowski, who worked on this year’s challenge activities.  

“Additionally, the assembly messages and spirit activities vary slightly from year to year. We also try to weave in the most relevant and recent events that resonate with students.” 

One area of improvement school districts is looking at is student behavior — as it was impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. Some children are learning or regaining those social skills that they couldn’t fully develop as they were learning at home.  

According to Barries, the Great Kindness Challenge gives students shared language and skills to be able to reach out to students they may typically not gravitate toward and/or support a student who might need help.  

“It’s also brought students together for shared activities like creating posters for campus, creating kindness chains and giving back to the community,” Barries and Nowakowski wrote. 

Matthew Watson, governing board member who represents Trustee Area 4, had one comment to share regarding the kindness challenge — it was great opportunity for their students and families. 

“Robin Williams, famously and wisely, said, ‘Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind always,’” Watson said. “That always touches me so deeply. We can speak our minds, advocate, and be the voice of dissent and stand up for what we believe while still always being kind.” 

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