Whiteaker student Camille Young decorates a kindness pledge hand as part of the Wolverins’ Great Kindness Challenge. (KEIZERTIMES/Eric A. Howald)

Whiteaker student Camille Young decorates a kindness pledge hand as part of the Wolverins’ Great Kindness Challenge. (KEIZERTIMES/Eric A. Howald)

By ERIC A. HOWALD
Of the Keizertimes

Donna Burnett, a counselor at Whiteaker Middle School, was surveying the possibilities for an anti-bullying campaign when she had an epiphany.

“You can’t get kids to buy into a negative goal. They’re not going to admit they are a bully, and the only ones those efforts speak to are those that are bullied,” Burnett said.

She decided to flip the effort on its head and signed up the Wolverines for The Great Kindness Challenge, a weeklong campaign to promote simple acts of kindness. Students held more doors for others, picked up trash, and showed kindness to themselves by eating healthy snacks.

“Even the faculty got into it. I saw a member of the administration mopping the floor the other day,” said Renee Helvie, another counselor at the school.

Aside from viewing bullying through a new lens, the program is offered to the school at no cost. Students received a kindness checklist and teachers were given suggestions for incorporating kindness into their curriculums.

The first day was a bit rough, Burnett said, but students were trying to outdo each other by the end of the week.

“It spreads quickly,” Burnett said. “Studies have shown that kindness fires up the endorphins in people. When you feel safe and feel happy, academic success increases. In a way, it shows them they have the ability to create the best learning environment for themselves.”

Teachers throughout the school reported a decrease in negative incidents as the challenge week, January 27-30, progressed. Students also anonymously reported random acts of kindness they witnessed in a comment box stationed outside the counseling office.

While the challenge week is over, Burnett said she will be looking for ways for teachers and staff to incorporate mindfulness all year long in hope of continuing the warm fuzzies elicited during the challenge.

“It’s about human flourishing. It’s already in everyone, we just have to give students the opportunity to experience how that feels,” Burnett said.