SOUTH JORDAN — In the midst of nationwide anxiety over violence in schools, children from a Salt Lake Valley school have won a national award for their simple acts of kindness.
"I think (being kind) is one of the most important things. I think it should be No. 1 on your list to do, is to at least give someone a smile," said 9-year-old Annabel George, a student at Daybreak Elementary School in South Jordan.
She said she felt "pretty excited" when she found out the school won the Middle School Kindness Challenge.
Education advocacy group Stand for Children, with several partners including A Union of Professionals, DonorsChoose.org and inspireED, started the Middle School Kindness Challenge last August.
Through the challenge, the education organizations hope "to ensure middle school is a place where kindness is commonplace, where meanness and hostility reach an all-time low, and where empathetic approaches to student behavior reduce unnecessary suspensions," according to the challenge's website.
Though it is meant for fifth- and sixth-graders, students of all ages at Daybreak wanted to join in when they learned about the challenge.
They started the challenge at the beginning of the school year, and since then, the students have "expanded it into so many other moments," said Wendy Babcock, Daybreak's arts learning program specialist who first learned about the challenge and suggested the school try it.
"We can combat the upset nature of society with kindness, and it can be these cute faces … that are the front lines, showing them that they're powerful," Babcock said.
The kids have learned an anti-bullying song, decorated "kindness bumper stickers" and classmates performed random acts of kindness for each other during December.
For example, one child never brought snacks to school, so one of his classmates gave him a "huge bag of chips," said third-grade teacher April Rudd.
Eight-year-old Rylan Palmer says when he holds doors open for people or tries to smile at them, they'll smile back at him or hold the door open for him later.
"If you're mean, it puts them down, but if you're kind, it makes their day a lot better," he said.
"(Being kind) is so important to me, because people would be just rude, and they would make you feel bad inside, but with people being nice to you, it just makes you feel so good," said 9-year-old Chloe Beckstead.
Her friend, 9-year-old Reese McDonald, agreed.
"To me, kindness is everything, because without kindness, we wouldn't have love. … Everyone's kind, and I've never seen anyone bully anyone. But so many people have been kind here, and that's just really special," she said.
Rudd says since starting the challenge, she has seen a difference in how her students "treat other people and how they talk to one another. They're more consciously thinking of it instead of spitting out whatever comes into their mind. They're like, 'OK, how will this affect someone,'" she said.
"There were kids who have been really going out of their way to be kinder than normal," added Kristy Whiteside, principal at Daybreak.
Through the challenge, Daybreak School won a $500 grant, which the school plans to use to buy "buddy benches."
If a child is feeling lonely or doesn't know what they're going to play at recess, they can sit on the benches. When other kids see them there, they will know to talk to them and include them, Whiteside said.