PRINCETON – Renee Carlson began her guidance counselor internship at Princeton High School shortly after 26 lives were taken in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. Around that time, journalist Ann Curry was challenging the nation to perform 26 acts of kindness to honor the victims.
As Carlson dove into her work at PHS, started holding sessions with students and honing in on their lives at school, she recognized a lack of friendliness and empathy in the hallways.
“I just decided we needed a little more kindness here,” she said.
For a required service project, Carlson was inspired to incorporate the acts of kindness project with students. She decided to work with the personal effectiveness class at PHS when she discovered their textbook taught the importance of random acts of kindness.
Teacher Jesse Snyder was excited about Carlson’s idea and invited her to his classroom to teach students about random acts of kindness and to challenge each to complete and record their own 26 random acts of kindness.
Carlson said her project evolved as she went, however, it had three clear goals. The first was to teach students to not judge others because everyone has a story. The second was to bring awareness to students’ surroundings and push them to recognize when others need help. The third was to instill empathy.
Carlson had students complete hands-on projects to help spread positive energy in the school. Projects included posting sticky notes with uplifting phrases on lockers, placing notecards with encouraging quotes in library books and filling goodies bags and handing them out to students in homeroom.
The random acts of kindness project spread throughout the school. PHS counselor Debra Dullard said students who weren’t in the personal effectiveness class visited her office and talked about the random acts of kindness project.
Dullard believed the highlight of Carlson’s project was when she assigned students to write a paper describing the 26 random acts of kindness they completed.
Carlson said she was surprised by the response in the students’ papers.
“I was amazed at the extent to which most of these students went to help others in the school, their families and the community,” she said. “Some were such simple things, but just touched my heart that I may have encouraged them to do that act of kindness.”
Synder said his students have enjoyed the project.
“I think they really benefited from Renee coming in and talking about these random acts of kindness because our society right now is so focused on me, me, me,” he said.
He explained when someone completes a random act of kindness, the positive vibes that comes from doing it spreads.
“A kind word goes a long way. I try to do my best to be as positive as I can, but there’s times that I know I could do even more,” he said. “You see these kids doing stuff, and it inspires you to model that behavior, and it’s very exciting to see.”
PHS freshman Hailey Hilmes said the project made her think about how valuable the little things can be.
Freshman Chaz Williams said he noticed acts of kindness don’t take much time to do.
“I feel that all of us should do more because if there are 1,440 minutes in a day, we should all spend 5 to 10 minutes making someone happy doing random acts of kindness,” he said.
Synder said he plans to continue Carlson’s project and will incorporate the curriculum Carlson created into next year’s class.
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