“What does it really mean to be kind anyway?”
This question was part of a read aloud from the book Be Kind by Pat Zietlow Miller during Creating a Compassionate Community Day (C3 Day) at J.T. Manning Elementary School February 5,2020. In the book when a classmate; Tanisha, felt embarrassed the author’s voice asks us this simple yet complex question. It is a question that needs to be asked again and again. We see the need for it in hallways, playgrounds, and lunch rooms across our schools among our youngest. We also see the need for it in the current political discourse, enemy making, & alliance building that so often happens among adults. The answer is not always easy to discern and requires more than pen to paper thoughts. It requires action taken in real life. What does it mean to be kind? And can we arrive at a definition apart of our interactions with actual people in our lives? Manning School leadership is unafraid to start these important conversations.
C3Day was an attempt to continue and expand the Social Emotional Learning at J.T. Manning. The day was a culmination of months of planning by a team of parents; with much teacher input, that wanted to craft meaningful and fun ways for adults in our community to be more involved in the school community. The goal of the day was not just to have a one-time big event but to continue the good and hard work the teachers and school leaders are doing day in and out. The idea for C3 Day was birthed from School Improvement Plan meetings over the summer that invited parents, educators, and administrators to dream big and dive deep into how they can improve the school community. One result was this half day experience that implemented a customized and multi-faceted program that included a read aloud, hands on activities, a “Compassion Quest” with scenarios and stops throughout the building, and a celebration assembly to help our students share in learning about compassion and caring for each other.
The school’s principal Ms. Lindsay Pietrzak was integral to making the day a success and shared, “(C3 Day was) a true example of what it means by “It Takes a Village.” To have over 40 adults support our educators in our mission to develop kindness and compassion in each of our students is a testament to how unique this district is.” Laura Coyle; a community parent volunteer and school board member praised Manning’s principal Ms. Piertrzak “for championing this creativity and innovation in her school.” Mrs. Roth; a kindergartner teacher led a stop on the Compassion Quest and helped facilitate discussions for not just her students but all grade levels around how students might think creativity about including a new student during lunch. She shared, “My kindergarten students LOVED their day!” Her students processed the day and responses included, “I love the quest because you can move around.” Another student said “I love the assembly because it was loud and everyone was there.” C3 Day focused on the entire school community and building on the sense of team and togetherness.
Students enjoyed doing something different and getting to meet adults in our community as well. Sophia Edmeier, a 3rd Grader said, “I really like C3 Day. I got to have the Superintendent Mr. Carey as my group leader and before we moved from place to place we had to put our hands in and say ‘Go Manning Meteors!’ It was like we were a team learning about kindness together.” She also referenced a book and activity from the older grades read aloud Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson sharing, “kindness is so important, when you are kind it ripples like a stone in the water.” A 2nd Grader Brooke Petty commented, “I learned how to be more compassionate and it was just really fun.” A 4th Grader Evy Engstrom said “I liked that we got to go with other parents and get to know them better.” Making meaningful connection was not just for students but also benefited parents. A parent new to the Manning community commented, “Being a new family at JT Manning this year, we are always looking for opportunities to get to know the culture and the community of the school. I walked away from the C3 Day, proud of the beautiful minds of the Manning Students.”
C3 Day was a chance for volunteers to share their lives and some of their story with students in the community. Kbuddha Argue, a parent of a kindergartner expressed his excitement about participating as a volunteer, “To see this school put words into action gave me hope that there are communities working around the clock to ensure kids and parents have a compassionate environment to thrive and grow.” Another parent volunteer Shannon Radi shared about what she observed in her group, “The children were asked to stretch their understanding and open their hearts to compassion. The day was full of opportunities for the children to view experiences from another lenses, to put themselves in someone else’s shoes and to practice being a good citizen.” Jason Engstrom, a parent in the community expressed his appreciation for the opportunity, “C3 Day was not only fun and positive for the students, but a great way for me to meet some new teachers and see them in their element, and interact with new parents as well. It was all about community building – and what a great way to bring together and interact with so many different voices in the community! I’d love to see this become an annual or even more often event!”
Practicing compassion in our real lives takes honest conversations and adults modeling and allowing students to wrestle with hard questions. Volunteers all wore “bling” medallions designed by a 2nd Grader Grace Hajek that read “Kindness Matters and #choosecompassion” and were asked to share vulnerably about how they have and are still learning to be compassionate in their everyday lives. Parents were intentionally not paired with their children because organizers wanted this day to be about the entire community. Volunteers included members of the local police force, firefighters, school board members, as well as parents and other community members. Living out choose compassion is not always easy or black and white and the hope of the day was that students would see compassion through many lenses and start to apply what they see to their lives. Shannon Radi, a parent volunteer saw this happen in her group, “One of my favorite moments was when my group was enjoying their snacks together. One classmate had a face drawn on her sandwich bag, to which another girl asked “What is that?” She told her that her Mom always draws faces on her sandwich bag. The classmate who was questioning said “Well that face is freaky” and she continues to make fun about the sandwich bag. A third classmate was listening to the interaction and she gently said “You know I think you are hurting her feelings.” The classmate in turn said “I am sorry I did not mean to hurt your feelings.” It was the Ah-hah moment. We had just spent an hour reading and discussing how to treat people, how to stand up for a fellow classmate and how to forgive yourself and ask for forgiveness. Throughout C3 Day the students at JT Manning, were asked to push their boundaries and understanding, to lead with a gentle kind heart not only to their classmate, but also with one another. C3 Day was a wild success.” This real life transfer of compassion is exactly what the team had hoped for and will continue to work for in the future. Mrs. Billie, an Instructional Coach in the CUSD 201 District summed up her feelings about the day, “I loved seeing teachers, District administration, Manning staff members, community members and parents collaborating with our students in small groups throughout the day. My favorite part was seeing the smiles on so many faces during our C3 day. I think we all learned a little bit more about being compassionate community members.”
The team and school hope that C3 Day was just a support and continuation of the good work the educators and community are doing every day in living compassion because it matters that we educate our children not just in math and reading but in how to navigate this world as a kind and compassionate human- that is true education. . Kbuddha Argue, a parent volunteer summed up the vibe of the day, “I have never been the one for school spirit and pride but J.T. Manning- I am a superfan today!”
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