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How nice of them

(ran PC edition)

For two weeks, students at West Zephyrhills Elementary School tallied random acts of kindness as part of a national program.

Bonnie Radtke is used to going into the classroom to teach students the importance of getting along with others. But these days, the guidance counselor is enjoying a lot more support from her students and colleagues at West Zephyrhills Elementary School.

In what seems to be a growing trend in education, schools like West Zephyrhills Elementary are putting a high priority on teaching students the rights and wrongs of social behavior, Radtke said.

"With what's been happening in schools throughout the country, there's an increased focus with the schools for character education," she said.

For two weeks in January, students were busy performing Random Acts of Kindness as part of an annual national program that kicked off on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The "Kindness and Justice Challenge" is sponsored by Do Something, a national non-profit organization that encourages youngsters to change their world by offering a variety of leadership, volunteer and character-based education programs.

The idea to take on the Kindness and Justice Challenge came from two teachers who know how tough it can be to teach social skills in the classroom.

Sharon Ohman and Christine Ballou, who work with emotionally handicapped and specific-learning-disabled children, approached the guidance counselor and the school principal after reading about the program in an Ann Landers column. The program challenges schools to record 1,000 random acts of kindness over a two-week period and seemed to be a perfect fit for Ballou's curriculum.

"Our children are judged more by their social skills than academic skills, and I think this is true for all children and all of us, but my (students) have a hard time with that," Ballou said.

Teaching students how to be kind to others and recognize those qualities in other children would be much easier if the entire school pitched in, Ballou thought. "With just one class (participating) it would be hard to record 1,000 acts of kindness," she said.

The administration as well as the guidance department embraced the idea.

So have the kids. Four days into the program, the students already had met their goal, doing 1,040 random acts of kindness that their teachers recorded.

"I'm seeing a lot of politeness, lots of "thank-you's' and "you're welcome's,' and they're definitely helping out their teachers more," said Mrs. Radtke, who last week was visiting individual classrooms.

Through role playing and board games, students like first-graders Shelby Mason and Cole Pete were getting an idea of what it means to be kind to others, said Radtke.

Using a board game spinner, the kindergartners were given a special assignment for the day. For some, their special job was to let someone go ahead of them. Others were asked to be friendly helpers, flash a smile at someone, or report back to the teacher when they saw someone committing a random act of kindness.

"That's a tough one," Mrs. Radtke said. "Usually when they go to the teacher it's to tattle."

"At least for the day this gives them the incentive to do acts of kindness," she said. "If they understand it for one day, maybe they'll carry it over and do it another day."

The lesson seemed to have some impact.

"You can be nice to other people and not push them," said Cole when asked what being kind meant to him.

"You can help people when they're hurt," offered Shelby.

"For a child of 4 or 5 to understand what the word "kindness' means and to be able to tell me some of the acts they've done or seen, well, that's something," Mrs. Radtke said.

"I think it's definitely making them much more aware of what one deed can do for a person _ both for themselves and the person they're reaching out to. There's more of an awareness of something good they can contribute to a person's day."

Like for first-grade teacher Robyn Beach.

"I think it's good; it's encouraging the kids to be nice to each other more than normal. That means it's a lot nicer in here," she said.

To learn more about programs sponsored by Do Something, check out http://www.dosomething.org.

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