As the middle-school disciplinarian at Our Lady of Prompt Succor in Chalmette, teacher Stacie Seube was on a perpetual lookout for ways to reduce the number of student complaints about their peers.
“They would come to me and say their friends weren’t being kind to them. Their friends weren’t being good friends,” recalled Seube, a 10-year OLPS faculty veteran.
A light bulb went off last summer as Seube was reading R.J. Palacio’s novel “Wonder,” in which a homeschooled fifth grader named Auggie enters a traditional school for the first time and is treated by others – both kindly and unkindly – due to a facial abnormality.
The novel became Seube’s inspiration for OLPS’s inaugural “Choose Kind” program, in which students, teachers and parents can earn “Kindness Coupons” when they are “caught doing kind” on or off campus. The recognized acts of kindness must be unsolicited and not just common courtesy, Seube notes.
“Holding the door for somebody is a kind gesture, but you should be doing that all the time anyway,” she said.
While anyone from the school family can bring news of a kind act to Seube’s attention, teachers are her main reporters.
“It can be any student they see on campus,” Seube said. “One teacher who was having a bad day was noticed by a student that she doesn’t even teach. (The student) gave her a hug. Just a simple gesture like that means so much!”
Other recognized acts of kindness include welcoming new students to the lunch table; volunteering to help the cafeteria staff clean up; and, in the case of one seventh grader, giving the coveted Rally Night role of wrapping the teachers in tissue paper to another student.
Younger students have been rewarded for helping classmates roll up their mats after naptime; giving up their front seat to another during reading time; and bringing in a box of Kleenex to their sick classroom.
“Sometimes it just might be picking up trash, unasked,” Seube said. “Our intention is not to bribe them into being kind, but to recognize their genuine acts of kindness.”
Kind acts performed by teachers include the purchase of rosaries for the whole school and the making of whimsical “Ghost Tennis Balls” for October P.E. classes.
Kindness Coupons include extra points on a test or a homework pass, while teachers receive rewards such as gift cards to a coffee shop.
“My heart just flows with joy when I see students who take the opportunity to see what needs to be done and then do it,” said OLPS principal Annette Accomando, observing that the program builds Catholic identity on campus while reminding students that a secular novel can also teach them how to live out the Gospel.
“How do we get students, parents and teachers to live the Word without sounding ‘Gospel-ly’ all the time?” Accomando asked. “I think this book (“Wonder”) gives us a perfect way to do that!”