Students in South Allegheny Schools spread kindness in their school and beyond, inspired by local legend Fred Rogers. At Tech & Learning, we are constantly inspired by the innovative ideas that educators come up with to engage students, which are highlighted in our Innovative Leader Awards (opens in a new tab).
We spoke with Jenna Whitney, a STEM teacher from South Allegheny School District in Pennsylvania, who won for Best Example of Teacher & Student Wellbeing Programs for her Kindness Club, Random Acts of Kindness program, and other positivity initiatives at the recent Maryland regional leadership summit(opens in new tab).
“We are always hopeful that we can be helpful and make the lives of others easier,” says Whitney, who offers advice to other educators and administrators who want to create a kinder and more supportive school environment.
1. Start Small: Create a “Random Acts of Kindness” program
“Our Kindness Campaign was founded on the idea of literally making our school a nicer place to be,” Whitney explains. “We were inspired by our local legend, Fred Rogers, and his work in supporting the healthy development of children through wonder. South Allegheny strives to treat everyone as if they were a neighbor.”
Students in the Kindness Campaign meet twice or three times per week during a flex period to brainstorm ideas and then carry out acts of kindness. The group makes random acts of kindness boxes (snacks, pencils, trinkets, friendship bracelets, stickers, and so on) to distribute during the day or notes of encouragement to distribute to students and staff.
2. Use Social Media for Good
“Our Kindness Campaign requested that we start our own Instagram account to promote kindness,” Whitney explains. “We include quotes about kindness and pictures of our work in our daily stories. The plan is to continue to highlight people doing nice things around school on our @sakindnesscampaign account. We currently have a good following among our students and community members, but we’d like to see it grow. The most important aspect of this is for our team to understand that kindness has a ripple effect and that doing things for others makes you feel good.”
3. Make Others Feel Seen
Whitney’s Random Acts of Kindness Club extends beyond students to ensure that every member of the school community receives recognition for their efforts.
“The impact of that recognition dramatically changes someone’s day,” Whitney says.
The Kindness Club helps staff by doing small jobs they don’t have time for, brightens students’ faces, and acknowledges school support personnel who are often overlooked, such as referees and umpires, by publicly thanking them for their efforts on the field or court.
4. Get Creative with Funding
“We use a lot of school supplies like stickers, construction paper, markers, and notecards,” Whitney says. “However, we do have to get creative with funding when we make our Random Acts of Kindness bags and teacher appreciation gifts.”
When members of the community learn about the program, they donate to the club through mini-fundraisers held within the school. To replenish materials, the group has also received funding through the Donors Choose platform.
5. Look Outside the School Building
The students sought to extend kindness beyond the school’s walls by volunteering with community partners.
“We’d like to get involved with our local animal shelter and food bank,” Whitney says. “We are also part of a program in the Pittsburgh area that has provided free school supplies to our district for years. We were finally able to give back by volunteering at their warehouse, assisting with teacher giveaway preparations.”