Kindness & Justice Challenge

January 15, 1999|By MEG H. PARTINGTON

A senior's willingness to speak out against racism and uncaring behavior inspired students and educators at Hancock Middle-Senior High School to participate in the Kindness & Justice Challenge.

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Miki Martinez's guest editorial in the October issue of The Roaring Panther, the school's newspaper, led to numerous positive letters in response to the student publication, says Bill Sterner, who teaches 10th- and 12th-grade English and journalism at Hancock Middle-Senior High. It also brought attention to the fact that life outside school can be difficult, he says.

"They need to see what's going on outside the walls of Hancock (Middle-Senior High)," says Sterner.

He discovered information about the Challenge on the Internet and was impressed by its well-rounded curriculum.

"It downplays the racial aspects and picks up on Martin Luther King's ideals of people living together. It helps kids clarify their values," says Sterner.

The chairman of the event is the slain civil rights leader's son, Martin Luther King III.


The second annual Kindness & Justice Challenge is a school-based program that encourages students in kindergarten through 12th grade to write down acts of kindness and justice they perform for two weeks beginning on Monday, Jan. 18 - the holiday celebrating Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday. Schools can mail in lists of the deeds or post them on the Web site for Do Something, a national nonprofit organization based in New York City that encourages young people to strengthen their communities. Some students and schools will receive national recognition for their work.

Teachers also are encouraged to follow a nine-day curriculum that focuses on such values as caring, compassion, fairness, respect, honesty, responsibility and moral courage.

About 15 elementary, middle and high schools in the Tri-State area have registered to participate.

Sterner says he will spend 20 to 25 minutes a day on school days from Tuesday, Jan. 19, to Friday, Jan. 29 teaching his students about the basics of treating people well and standing up for what's right, lessons he hopes will extend long after the Challenge is over.

Karen Stroup, principal at T.A. Lowery Elementary School in Charles Town, W.Va., says the Challenge curriculum fits in well with the Character Counts! program the school piloted in the 1997-98 school year in Jefferson County. Character Counts! teaches what it calls the "six pillars of character" - trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring and citizenship.

T.A. Lowery students learn about good character throughout the year and have provided service to the community, including collecting food around Thanksgiving for Community Ministries food bank in Jefferson County, singing at nursing homes and taking Valentines to patients at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Martinsburg, W.Va., says Stroup.

In addition, students in grades four to six are involved in peer mediation, in which some are trained to resolve conflicts between their fellow elementary school pupils.

"Kids are very egocentric and we can help them move out of that sphere," Stroup says.

Students in all grades at T.A. Lowery will participate in the Kindness & Justice Challenge, says guidance counselor Bridget DeRonda. Rather than focus on posting their acts on the Web for recognition, the school is concentrating on the virtues the event promotes.

T.A. Lowery's theme is "Strengthening the Chains of Character - Breaking the Chains of Apathy." Students will write good deeds they have done that reflect compassion, responsibility or kindness on a paper link that will be connected to others' links to form a chain around the cafeteria.

Photographs of children with people they have helped or of anything representing their positive actions also will be posted on the walls of the eating area, DeRonda says.

Karla Davis plans to incorporate the Kindness & Justice Challenge into her biography unit at Boonsboro Middle School. This is the second year she has involved her sixth-grade language arts students in the experience.

Davis' students will not only learn about King, but Jackie Robinson, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, all of whom made a positive impact on human rights. Their vocabulary lessons will include such terms as fairness, caring, justice and moral courage.

With parental permission, the pupils will post their acts of goodwill on the Web, listing only their first names, Davis says.

"The important thing is not really posting the acts," she says. "I just want to focus into the idea of human rights."

Good citizens are kind, helpful and fair, say some fourth-graders at T.A. Lowery.

"We learned how to be caring and help your friends a lot," says 10-year-old Skye Spalding. She was able to put that rule into practice recently when a neighbor fell while roller blading and Skye rounded up the girl's brother and together they brought her home safely.

"Think before you act," says Donald Fisher, 9. He says the Character Counts! program has also taught him how to be responsible, which sometimes includes feeding his dog when he doesn't really want to.

Cassie Lloyd, 9, says she has learned to aid anyone who needs help.

"If someone wants to play a game, you should let them play," says Sam Moore, 10.

What is the Kindness & Justice Challenge?

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