Last Friday, April 28, was International Pay It Forward Day, an annual day of giving celebrated around the world since 2007. It’s a global initiative to spread kindness through small acts of generosity. With more than 80 countries and millions of people participating, the goal is to change the world for the better — one person and one small act of kindness at a time.
I’m lucky to work at a place where I’m surrounded by small acts of kindness each and every day. With high-fives handed out between classes, and smiles offered to their teachers, the students at Homer Middle School have created a culture in which caring is cool.
One unforgettable act of kindness happened here this past Valentine’s Day. An anonymous family donated a red rose to each middle school girl. Attached to the rose was a beautiful card containing a thoughtful poem. With the help of our principal, the roses were quietly hidden inside each girl’s locker where they were discovered, amongst shrieks and gasps and tears, early Valentine’s Day morning.
Girls crowded together admiring one another’s flowers. Some girls clutched their roses throughout the entire day. Others tucked their cards into pockets to take out and read time and time again. They took such care of their gifts that when the hallways cleared at the end of the day, there wasn’t a single fallen petal. The joy that filled our school that day was palpable.
I’m often caught off guard by students’ spontaneous acts of kindness, such as one that occurred recently in my PE class. It was the first day of a rollerblading unit, and I was rapidly approaching my wit’s ends. As I frantically adjusted helmets, strapped up mismatched kneepads, and buckled skates, a boy seated on a nearby bench waved me over.
“I can’t get up,” he groaned.
I lugged him onto his wobbly feet. But now what? I had 24 other students to supervise and didn’t dare turn my back to them while steadying this one unstable boy. I looked around in desperation and saw, tucked into the corner, several large cafeteria garbage cans on wheels.
“Just lean forward,” I instructed him as I transferred his shaking hands to the edge of a can, “and push out with your feet.”
It wasn’t until I rolled him away and watched him floundering over the garbage container that I stopped for a moment to think. Twenty-four students were flying in circles around the gym, and one unfortunate child was stuck in the middle awkwardly suspended over a giant, florescent yellow garbage can. I had unintentionally made a spectacle of him, and set him up for ridicule.
Nervously, I looked on as a rather impetuous and athletic boy zoomed past my garbage can-wielding friend. The boy looked over his shoulder and laughed, and then pulled an abrupt U-turn. As I warily approached, the boy latched onto the far side of the container. “Hey,” he said nonchalantly to the wide-eyed face balancing above the garbage, “do you think I could practice skating backwards while you push forwards?”
I watched with astonishment as the two wobbled away. Instantly, kids began pulling out the other garbage cans, and within moments, six gigantic yellow containers were paraded in laps around the gym. Kids laughed and called out turns as they paired up to practice skating together.
Stories about public school bullies make the headlines. But the real news is quieter and kinder, and it’s happening all around me at Homer Middle School. Every day I witness kids supporting and comforting each other. I see students offering forgiveness and friendship, smiles and encouragement.
Pay It Forward Day is every day at each of the schools in Homer. Our schools are filled with kids and adults who are working to make the world a better place. Sometimes, amongst all the noise and confusion, it’s hard to focus on the little acts of kindness. But they happen all around me.
It’s easy to imagine what a better world this would be if we all took a tip from the kids at Homer Middle School and simply handed out high-fives in the hallways.
Bonnie Jason is a teacher at Homer Middle School and a Homer Foundation trustee since 2003.