“Kind is the New Cool” — SA Harlem East’s 1,000 Acts of Kindness Challenge
Christian Mejia Herrera – March 13, 2020
SA Harlem East is an exceptionally kind community — for our scholars, being kind is the default. They hold doors, say thank you, pick up litter, help each other with their homework, and bring assignments to friends who are out sick without even registering that these are acts of kindness. This fall, when my Senior Leader Ms. McNamara challenged us to come up with a school community-building campaign, I saw it as an opportunity to highlight one of SA Harlem East’s greatest strengths: our kindness.
It’s human nature to focus on the negative: What’s going wrong? Where am I falling short? It was important to me that our campaign brought attention to and celebrated the positive: the goodness in the people we spend each day with. With that in mind, we launched the 1,000 Acts of Kindness Challenge, which encouraged scholars and staff to document acts of kindness and submit them to a “ballot box” with the goal of reaching 1,000 acts schoolwide in a month. We knew we’d have strong results because the foundation was already there, but we didn’t anticipate how quickly we’d surpass our goal — we reached 1,075 submissions within two weeks — or by how much — ultimately, our community recorded 1,778 acts of kindness.
The Challenge transformed SA Harlem East MS in two important, interconnected ways: by encouraging us to recognize and appreciate the kindness of our community members and by energizing us to be even kinder ourselves. My favorite part of the Challenge was seeing the lengths to which our scholars, staff, and teachers went to lift each other’s spirits every day. Scholars were immediately invested, coming into school early to report friends’ and teachers’ acts of kindness. The feeling that we were working toward a common objective — we were determined to reach that goal of 1,000 acts — was electrifying. I saw scholars strengthen old friendships and forge new ones — relationships that persist to this day! A few scholars remarked that “kind is the new cool.” I couldn’t agree more.
I asked some members of the Harlem East community to tell me about their favorite Acts of Kindness from the Challenge. Their reflections are below.
“During the challenge, I noticed my student Layla Davis emulating some of the acts of kindness I take pride in modeling — saying good morning, holding the door open for others, picking up trash on the floor. I felt so proud to see her replicate these gestures because I knew she genuinely wanted to do her best to be a kind person — something I want all of my students to be.” —Carlos Alvarez, Sixth Grade STEM Teacher, Math Lead
“One day, a scholar came into the Main Office with her nose bleeding. In the past, she had been brought in by an adult or come in alone, but this time, she was escorted by sixth-grader DeAnni Ruiz. DeAnni provided support, making sure her friend had enough tissues and telling her, ‘You can get through this, and I’m here if you need anything.’ It was heartwarming to know that scholars have each other’s backs, no matter what.” —Jasmaine Quashie, Community Relations Coordinator
“A memorable moment for me was when we reached 1,075 Acts of Kindness — more than we’d planned for the month-long Challenge — in just the second week of the campaign. I was touched by how generous and considerate our school community was. Seeing everyone take a moment from their busy days to shout out all the good they saw in SA Harlem East filled me with joy.” —Bridget McNamara, Senior Leader
“Segnonble Yoanson, an eighth-grade scholar, went above and beyond to help his friend Joey, who was injured in the stairwell. Segnonble brought his friend to the nurse and stayed with him until he received care. I was proud that he took the initiative to take care of his friend. Later that same week, he was recognized for performing the Kind Act of the Week.” —Drew Kingman, Eighth Grade STEM Teacher, Math Lead
“During the Challenge, the small, unseen kind deeds our scholars and faculty perform every day were acknowledged and celebrated. I was touched when fifth-grader Bryce Thompson wrote me a note thanking me for saying ‘good morning’ to him every day — an inconsequential act on my part that I learned meant a lot to him and even made his day.” —Sophia Fredo, 5th Grade Humanities Teacher, History Lead
On a schoolwide level, the Challenge rallied us around the idea that you can never be too kind. You can always lend a helping hand. You can make someone’s day by checking in to see how they’re doing or just by giving them a smile. Our scholars are shouting out each other’s acts of kindness to this day, and they’re not doing it because they’re trying to reach a numerical goal. It comes from the heart.