Fourth grader Karsyn Wetzel believes her school is “a great place where you can learn” and “you feel safe here.”
And she’s a part of making New Rockford-Sheyenne Public School in New Rockford-Sheyenne, North Dakota, the safe place that it is – last year she started a kindness club.
“One day we were talking about bullying. One of my classmates was getting bullied a lot. She cried and I felt bad for her,” Wetzel explained. “Me and my friends just thought about a kindness club, a club to learn how to prevent bullying and to teach people the reasons why they can be kind.”
Wetzel and her friends approached their third grader teacher, Tara Seward, with the idea.
“They’d went out at recess and said, ‘Can we start a kindness club?’ And I said, ‘Of course! You don’t have to ask me!’” Seward said. “It was completely student-generated. They felt a need for it.”
Kindness is part of the culture throughout the school and in Seward’s classroom, where students work together to create a classroom code and, according to Seward, talk a lot about “kindness and empathy to make things feel comfortable and have a safe space.”
The kindness club met throughout the year on Thursday afternoons where Seward would support students in conversations about activities that would promote kindness. Students created posters, organized a kindness week and last summer Karsyn had a lemonade stand and donated all of the profits to the club to help with activities and materials.
When asked to explain what it means to her to be kind, Wetzel is wise beyond her years.
“To be kind means to make someone feel like they’re loved and to give them hope,” Wetzel said.
Cultivating a sense of hope and belonging and creating a place where students feel safe and cared for is often the goal of many educators – that it’s a goal they share with even their youngest learners is a testament to the culture at New Rockford-Sheyenne.
This year the kindness club created a video inspired by the Kindness Boomerang, demonstrating how even the smallest act of kindness has an impact.
What’s even more remarkable about the video is that it highlights how even students who might not at first act kindly are deserving of kindness, and it echoes Karsyn’s own feelings about bullying.
“I feel like when people start to bully they have something going on in their life first that makes them want to get it out and make someone feel like that instead of them,” Karsyn said. “Maybe they could just ask people to play with them and they could just join, find someone kind to play with rather than someone who will say no.”
Seward continues to support the kindness club even though Karsyn is no longer one of her students.
“It’s been a great group of kids,” Seward said. “They see the importance of being kind to one another in this world.”
Marysville is tracking progress by asking students to complete the Student Experience Survey, which tracks metrics traditional grades can’t capture, like the degree to which students feel hopeful.