The overwhelming support that flowed into Sandy Hook Elementary School in so many varying forms after the events of 12/14 inspired then-teacher and Greenwich resident Kaitlin Roig-DeBellis to do something in return.
Ms Roig-DeBellis is currently taking a leave of absence from teaching at the school, and, with plans to return to teach in August, is spending her time focusing on other classrooms.
In the first weeks back at school following 12/14, Ms Roig-DeBellis said people kept “giving and giving” to her students. After some time, she said she had a moment of clarity: It was time to give back.
One morning, Ms Roig-DeBellis said, she decided to explain to her students why people were doing things for them and teach them the lesson that when someone does something for them it opens an opportunity to do the same for others. She shared an idea of helping another class feel happy by showing students in that class that people care about them.
“They were honestly more excited about the prospect I had just shared with them than they were about playing with the new things at recess,” said Ms Roig-DeBellis.
She reached out to a teacher she knows in Tennessee and was put in touch with another teacher whose class wanted a MimioTeach board.
“That really got the idea snowballing in my mind,” said Ms Roig-DeBellis.
Her students were thrilled when she shared the news with them. Ms Roig-DeBellis said her class made that wish come true, and the experience made Ms Roig-DeBellis think, “Shouldn’t every child be able to experience that?”
People learn by doing, Ms Roig-DeBellis said, much more than they learn by talking.
“It’s our job to teach them that and give them that experience,” Ms Roig-DeBellis said.
In April, after meeting a number of people — including the Classes 4 Classes future board members — and cementing her ideas, the Classes 4 Classes website was launched. As www.classes4classes.org explains, the nonprofit organization’s mission is to teach every child in the nation “that our lives are not separate but rather completely connected, and that everyone has the power to take action and create positive change.”
As the founder and executive director, Ms Roig-DeBellis said she is supported by executive board members and four junior board members that also believe in the orgainzation’s cause.
The website, according to the Classes 4 Classes mission, provides a platform to engage students “in learning a social curriculum, not by talking about kindness and empathy but by living it. This encourages the development of their emotional intellect, which is key to forming healthy relationships. Students in one [kindergarten through eighth grade] class give a gift that fulfills a need or educational objective to another [kindergarten through eighth grade] class, anywhere in the country.”
When it first launched, Ms Roig-DeBellis said roughly 30 classrooms were involved, and at that point the website was limited. By October the website was open for use by classrooms across the United States.
Ms Roig-DeBellis said Classes 4 Classes is crowd funded and free to use. Anyone can donate to a cause.
Ms Roig-DeBellis said she has heard from teachers that have participated in Classes 4 Classes. They reported witnessing their students taking ownership of helping raise money for other classrooms. One school held a tag sale, another offered a morning coffee event, and another held a movie night. All of those things, Ms Roig-DeBellis said, are beyond what Classes 4 Classes asks its participants to do, but within those generous acts Ms Roig-DeBellis also says she sees the beauty in the program.
Classes 4 Classes, Ms Roig-DeBellis said, is a tool teachers can use to spread a social curriculum among students.
Now Ms Roig-DeBellis said her main priority is to spread awareness about what Classes 4 Classes provides.
Recent coverage of Classes 4 Classes and Ms Roig-DeBellis herself have brought jumps in the website’s use, according to Ms Roig-DeBellis, who was recently nominated in L’Oréal Paris’s Women of Worth contest. As one of the nominees, Ms Roig-DeBellis earned Classes 4 Classes $10,000 and was in the running for earning her organization another $25,000.
Glamour magazine also named Ms Roig-DeBellis one of its Women of the Year 2013. She was featured in a recent issue of the magazine with some of the students she taught last school year.
“We have a long way to go,” said Ms Roig-DeBellis. “My goal is to be in every classroom across the United States, so I have some work to do.”