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Wednesday February 27, 2019 at 11:15am Age: 85 days
Category: Middle School, District


Oscar Wilde? Anonymous? The origin of the old quote “Be yourself. Everyone else is taken,” remains elusive. It's meaning, however, continues to resonate, especially with the young.

Recently, the words became a central theme to one of the Kindness Campaigns conceived by eighth graders in Jennifer Pagnanella’s enriched English Language class.  

The students undertaking followed the reading of R.J. Palacio’s best-selling novel, “Wonder,” best known after the release of a movie version. “Wonder” is the story of Auggie Pullman, a fifth grader who experiences social isolation on account of a facial deformity.

The relatability of the story is powerful among middle-schoolers. Feelings of awkwardness and worrying about making friends and being accepted are part of growing up, and every middle-schooler is likely to experience or witness unkind words directed at a personal trait.

That relatability came through when Mrs. Pagnanella’s students were challenged to plan and present Kindness Campaigns that would integrate the practice of kind acts and words in their daily school life.

Kindness is the district-wide theme for the current academic year, and by now students are demonstrating their awareness of the concepts of diversity and inclusion. They are also expressing their own ideas for the implementation of kind practices.

Working in groups, students engaged in research, developed goals, campaign logos and slogans, and wrote persuasive speeches intended to get buy-in from school leaders.

But what most stood out in the students’ presentations of their campaign proposal was their emphasis on helping each other and themselves feeling accepted and respected.

“I was a bit nervous about presenting, but now I’m happy I was able to do it,” Noah McGinnis said. “I learned a lot about teamwork, and that it’s important to rely on other people in life.” Noah’s group share meaningful research on bullying and emphasized standing up for others (bystander vs. upstander perspective) and internalizing their feelings as their own.

“This project changed my perspective on people,” Ivy Ha said. “Everyone is different in their own way, but we are all people deep inside and share the same needs.” Ivy’s group focused on encouraging diversity, respecting each others’ identity, and the sense of self-worth.

Elizabeth Cerutti
was part of a group whose “Girls Supporting Girls” campaign goal is to help girls feel more confident about themselves. Their presentation highlighted the issue of body shaming and how girls need to uphold each other with affirming words. “You have to surround yourself with people who are kind to you and support you,” Elizabeth said. “I think that kindness can really make a difference and change someone’s day.”