Inside a Greenwood Elementary School classroom, Olivia Fox, Grant Halgren and Maya Cherne lightly bounce on exercise balls—as if the kids need movement to convey excitement.
The fifth-grade students in Tami Arvig’s class beam as they share what they’ve done in the Path of Kindness program. The Plymouth Police Department’s new initiative is a facet of its DARE program started to help teach kids the power of generosity.
Path of Kindness encourages students to do an act of kindness for someone in their lives—a cousin living overseas, a next-door neighbor or their mom. After the act, the young do-gooder passes on a card. The recipient is asked to go online to write about the experience, then encouraged to pay it forward to someone new.
“It’s just a ripple,” says Sara Lynn Cwayna, a public safety education specialist in the fire and police department. “We often don’t see how something so small can make such a big difference. This is a way to show kids that one thing that they can do can make a difference for someone.”
Arvig’s fifth-graders are the first grade in the district to test the program. The police department picked Arvig and Greenwood because, Cwayna says, “It’s a school that celebrates the goodness of kids and teaches responsibility. We’ve partnered with them in the past, and it was a really good pilot for us.”
Arvig introduced the children to the concept in December.
“The kids are really excited about it,” Arvig says. “They want their paths to go far, obviously. They are a great group of kids, big hearts, really sweet, so it’s a fun group to have as guinea pigs.”
Yet the cards weren’t as widely distributed during the holiday break as was expected.
“You have the kids that give it away right away and are doing fun things with it,” Arvig says. “Then you have ones that are excited about doing big things and sending it to the other side of the world—just getting it as far away as they can. It’s affecting them differently, but they are all excited to be doing it in their own way.”
Grant Halgren, for example, just dropped his Playstation controller and helped his mom with the laundry one night. It was a small gesture that was well received.
“She said, ‘Thank you so much,” he says while smiling and bouncing on the ball. “She does it twice a week, but she doesn’t like to do it.”
Olivia Fox sent a letter to her cousin in the Peace Corps., in Mozambique. She says he doesn’t have much contact with those at home.
“I think he’ll be really happy that I remembered, and that somebody wrote to him,” she says with wide eyes.
Maya Cherne believes in the program, but says the act of handing off the card is a bit off-putting.
“I think it’s a really good program that the teachers are encouraging the kids to do nice things,” she says with seriousness beyond her 10 years. “But I think it’s weird and awkward if I did something nice and then hand them a card so I could get recognized at school. The point is to do it, not to get recognized.”
During the holiday season, Maya and friends went caroling and collected nonperishable food items in her neighborhood. A neighbor, Maya says, seemed the likely card recipient.
All three kids comment about how the program could turn out to be limitless.
“It will be really cool to see how it goes around,” Maya says. “It could go to another in the United States or over to the U.K., then to China.”
“It could go to someone you know or to someone you have no idea of,” Olivia adds. “It’s a big chain reaction. It’s fun to see if it goes to one person or to 100 people.”
Arvig says the program already has paid off, as students are doing random acts of kindness that aren’t tied to cards or class credit. Students have been collecting cash to help a fellow student who recently lost a parent, organized by Grant.
“I still think I will do kind things around the community,” Grant says.
If first impressions last, then Arvig’s class might soon have some company. Cwayna says at least two different schools have contacted her with interest in adding the program in the future.
“It’s a program that costs virtually nothing for us to do,” Cwayna says, “but the potential of what it creates is endless.”