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The power of kindness: Waldon students commit over 500 acts of kindness in honor of fallen soldiers

June 23, 2010 - Jayme is a student at Waldon Middle School. One day, her mom was outside cleaning the yard and picking up sticks.

"I knew she was probably tired, so I decided to help her because it is easier for me to bend down and pick up sticks than it is for her. I could tell she was glad that I was helping her. It made me feel helpful," Jayme said.

Donna DeWitt-Schnell’s technology students at Waldon blogged about their 500 acts of kindness done in honor of two National Guard pilots who died last February in Iraq. Photo submitted (click for larger version)
Spencer's also a Waldon middleschooler. The other day, his younger brother had no one to hang out with. Spencer was planning on going to a friend's house that day, but he decided to stay home and kick the soccer ball around with his little brother instead.

"I know that made him feel really happy because usually we don't hang out with each other," Spencer said.

These small acts of kindness, along with more than 500 others, were committed by Donna DeWitt-Schnell's technology students in honor of Marcus Alford and Billie Jean Grinder. The two were from Tennessee and were National Guard pilots. They died fighting in Iraq in February.

Waldon technology students have never met Alford or Grinder, said DeWitt-Schnell. To most of them, Tennessee is as foreign as outer space. Their only connection to the two soldiers is through their teacher's son-in-law, who was part of Alford and Grinder's unit in Iraq.

"My daughter was telling me about the grief that went through that unit. So I said to my students, 'What can we do?'" said DeWitt-Schnell.

The class came up with the idea of an online blog, logging each time a student put an arm around someone lonely or helped a friend pick up spilled books and papers or did a chore without being asked. Each blog post ends with, "this was done for Billie Jean and Marcus."

"I really enjoyed doing this project because it helped me notice that I can do so much in the world. I also liked seeing the smiles on other people's faces." - A Waldon student
Their goal was to reach 500 acts of kindness, and reach it they did.

Now, students are sending those 500-plus blog posts – compiled into 38 pages in a photo album – to Alford and Grinder's families."

"This became our gift to them," said DeWitt-Schnell. "We have no connections to Tennessee, but all of a sudden the children are learning about families there and we started realizing our common humanity. These are people who are no longer strangers to us."

DeWitt-Schnell incorporates teaching the importance of kindness in her classroom as part of a "bucket filling" program. Bucket filling is a metaphor for committing acts of kindness (filling buckets) or being unkind (dipping into buckets).

"When people dip into your bucket, they take out your good feelings, and when you dip into others' buckets, you also displace your own good feelings," said DeWitt-Schnell. "When we fill a bucket, we also fill our own personal bucket."

She added, "(Students) realize that kindness has power in itself."

The program concept is based on a book written by DeWitt-Schnell's sister, Carol McCloud, titled Have you filled your bucket today?

DeWitt-Schnell laughingly said the book is for anyone from preschool to prison. It's based on positive psychology and being others-centered rather than self-centered.

"Even though it's geared for young children, everyone buys it because it's relevant to living our lives. It's really life-affirming for everybody," she said.

The book came to life for her sister when, in one year, she lost both her husband and her job.

"Everything kind of fell apart in her life," said DeWitt-Schnell. "One night, when her husband was dying and she'd lost her job, she sat down and wrote this book in about 30 minutes."

What does that mean for DeWitt-Schnell's students?

"I try to be more conscious about small acts of kindness I perform, as they can change someone's day for the better," said one. "When my class was asked to perform 500 acts of kindness in honor of Billie Jean and Marcus, not many were ready to spring to the challenge. I was one of many who didn't necessarily try to participate (I only put down one act of kindness). But, by the time five hundred kind acts have been performed, I was stunned at how many people spoke of how the acts of kindness made the receiver's day."

Another said, "The Billie Jean and Marcus project definitely changed my life. It made me realize that little things that I do can make a person's day better. There are some things that you don't even know you're doing and they can change a person's mood completely. I really enjoyed doing this project because it helped me notice that I can do so much in the world. I also liked seeing the smiles on other people's faces."

Reporter, Lake Orion Review
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