Tabernacle students participated in the district-wide ‘Peace Signs Project’ on Feb. 28.
“Be kinder than is necessary.”
Third-grade teachers Stacie Delaney and Michael Dunlea used this quote from the book titled “Wonder” by R. J. Palacio to motivate their students for a lifetime of compassion.
Delaney and Dunlea implement various kindness initiatives into their classroom — most recently introducing a district-wide “Peace Signs Project.” This project was inspired by Melissa Collins and her second-grade students in Memphis, Tenn., after partnering with the National Civil Rights Museum to organize the first-ever student silent demonstration march to take place on what would have been Martin Luther King Jr.’s 90th birthday.
Collins connected with the Tabernacle School District through an online platform called Empatico that joins classrooms around the country and the world through video conferences.
Delaney and Dunlea taught their class about the civil rights movement and how they too are capable of changing the world in a peaceful way. They said middle school students discussed peace in connection to First Amendment rights and activists such as Gandhi, Malala and others who have brought about positive change.
As a part of this project, students throughout the district made signs about world peace, with expressions such as “kindness counts,” “we can change the world” and “I have a dream for peace and kindness.”
On Feb. 28, Tabernacle Elementary School marched across New Road to Olson Middle School to join as a district to partake in a peace walk throughout the school.
“We’re one district and we’re a small district, yet we’re still separated and it was just about bringing the people together,” Dunlea said. “One of the big things we’ve been embracing over the past four or five years is really tapping into student voices and allowing them to represent themselves and find themselves. When they were able to choose what their sign said it was a way of their voice being able to be demonstrated.”
Similarly, Delaney felt that closing the gap of separation caused by New Road allowed for a chance of unity for a good cause.
“Going across the street and just being together and letting them all be a part of the same thing — it wasn’t a separation of schools, it let them be all joined together and stand for peace and kindness, it was really great,” Delaney said.
They both feel that being able to express their voices in a positive way empowers students and is something they will take with them throughout their lives.
“We often talk about how they’re going to grow up and change the world but we really think they can change the world starting right now,” Dunlea said.
Delaney and Dunlea demonstrate the value of kindness in their classroom on a regular basis, whether it be through learning about the civil rights movement, learning about the United Nations sustainable development goals or connecting with other classrooms globally to embrace different cultures, accents, religions, skin tones and more.
They feel that by modeling the importance of kindness, they are teaching the students that it is something to be highly valued.
“There’s a misconception that school prepares kids for future work which would be five days a week, but this kind of lesson prepares kids for seven days a week. We’re really empowering them with what they’re going to need in order to be successful in life,” Dunlea said. “These skills make all the difference in the world. You can know so much, but if you don’t interact with others with kindness, you’re not going to ever become successful.”
Delaney followed by saying, “By teaching them how to be empathetic, allowing them to show empathy and kindness and teaching them social emotional skills in the classroom, I hope they make the world a better place. I hope they make it a kinder, more gentle place.”