Paying It Forward With Gestures Of Kindness From Middle School Students

Students in Newtown Middle School 8 Purple Cluster learned more than grammar and punctuation, mathematics and geography this past semester. They were among those whose teachers incorporated life lessons into their curriculum this past spring, including the idea of paying kindness forward.

Guided by a suggestion from English teacher Danelle Egan, the students began by doing a few acts of kindness for a classroom in Detroit. They then surprised their teacher by taking up their own collection to send for the restoration of schools and classrooms in Moore, Okla.

“They have impressed me this year with their sensitivity to others and their desire to give back,” Ms Egan said.

Kathryn Blanco, Kate Luongo, Emily McCoy, Lauren Russo, and Sam Zakur joined their teacher recently to talk about the projects.

Following 12/14, when donations began pouring into Newtown from across the country and even around the world, many people sent money through DonorsChoose.org. The website is an online charity that allows people to securely decide where they would like to make a donation for students in need. The website is set up so that donors can make donations of any size, and can choose by region or state, or a project as requested by a teacher.

Founded by New York City public school teacher Charles Best in 2000, the website has, as of June 25, raised more than $181,800,201, funding more than 362,000 projects and benefiting more than 8.9 million students.

Many donors chose Newtown after the Sandy Hook School tragedy, and money began collecting. Eventually each teacher in the district received $250 “to use in their classroom at their discretion,” Ms Egan said. After discussing needs versus wants (“We talked about the fact that we really have everything we need,” said the teacher), and the concept of paying things forward, the eighth grade English teacher left the decision up to her students.

“Our class received that donation and decided we wanted to do something kind with it,” said Kathryn. “Ms Egan told us about a school in Detroit, and the first graders who didn’t really have a lot of children’s books but they loved reading.”

Using DonorsChoose in reverse, the NMS students went back online and found a school that was looking for books. They also looked for an age group that would represent the children who died on 12/14.

That was when the group found and decided to help a first grade class at Neinas Elementary School, a “very high poverty area,” said Ms Egan. They used $225 of their credited money to make a donation for the Neinas classroom.

“The books that will be purchased with the donation money will be classroom books, but we also sent them some of our own books so that each student has something to take home and read this summer,” said Ms Egan. So in addition to sending a DonorsChoose gift card, approximately 30 books were shipped to Detroit, due to arrive well before summer break.

“We all made cards we sent to the kids, with notes about our favorite books that we like to read,” said Emily.

Kathryn wrote about Old Possum’s Books of Practical Cats. Kate talked about Teddy Robinson, which she read so many times she lost count, she said. Lauren wrote about Chimps Don’t Wear Glasses, a book that is “all about your imagination and what you can make of it,” she said.

The children in Detroit sent photos and thank you cards to Newtown, thanking them for their new books and the cards.

The remaining $25 the NMS students had was sent to a school in Derby, said Ms Egan.


Another Gesture Of Kindness

The opportunity to do something nice for strangers must have stirred something in the eighth grade students. After sending the books out to Michigan, they turned around and asked their teacher if they could do something else. This time they wanted to help people who had been in the path of a fatal tornado in May.

“I suggested that we do a money collection of Moore, Oklahoma,” said Sam. “I did it because at my church we got huge amounts of stuff … money, and books, and stuff like that. Everyone did something for us, but I felt guilty because I hadn’t done something for anyone else.

“After the tragedy there, I decided to try to kind of pass what had happened to me forward, so that maybe they could feel better about what their situation was.”

The majority of the students in the cluster — approximately 85 in all — pooled their money for a week. Students donated between $5 and $20. In the end they collected the same amount they had been granted to work with, $250.

“I thought that number was kind of amazing,” said Ms Egan. “It was the exact amount we had been given to work with. We felt like it was nice karma. We had come full circle.”

Ms Egan was extremely proud of her students.

“I know there are corporations out there that can donate hundreds of thousands of dollars for programs and project,” she said. “But these children picked up this lesson and came up with their own collection. They raised their own money, and did something so nice for others.”

The students may have heard the phrase “pay it forward” before 12/14, but they better understand its meaning now that they have had the opportunity to offer their own gestures of kindness.

“I think we learned a lot more about how it’s really applied in real life,” said Kate. “Before it was just a definition, a word. But we have learned what it really means, and the feelings that are attached to it.”

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