Fall in the Pacific Northwest means the leaves are rapidly changing, transforming the landscape into an awe-inspiring, multi-colored display. Inside the hallways of South Ridge Elementary School, you’ll find another tree that is inspiring to behold, though in a different way. This one is a “Kindness Tree” made out of construction paper that keeps growing by the day. The Kindness Tree first took root as a bare tree trunk, appearing suddenly one day in early October on a whiteboard at the Ridgefield School District elementary school. The whiteboard where the tree lives is in a prime location in a central hallway, with hundreds of students and teachers passing it multiple times each day.
The idea for the project started with the school’s fourth grade classes discussing how they could demonstrate kindness to others. The students had many examples to share: a friend who talked to them when they were sad; a classmate who helped pick up dropped papers in the hallway; or a parent who helped them solve a difficult problem.
Until recently, the display area where the tree lives remained largely unused until the fourth grade teachers at South Ridge decided to use the space as a colorful, visual reminder of how often students see or experience an act of kindness in their everyday lives.
“The Kindness Tree is a way for students to learn what kindness is, what it can look like, and what it can do,” said fourth grade teacher Jackie Bergeron. “It’s a tangible way for them to recognize kindness each and every day.”
Students are encouraged to record and recognize acts of kindness by writing them down on paper leaves. They then place the leaves in a box in the hallway to be added to the branches of the tree. Bergeron’s daughter, Olivia, a student at Sunset Ridge Intermediate School, helps by putting the new leaves on the tree each day after school.
Before long, the tree’s once-bare branches sprouted dozens of brightly colored paper leaves, each inscribed by a student who had either seen or performed a recent act of kindness at South Ridge. Now, the tree isn’t just recording acts of kindness, but it’s also inspiring new ones. And it’s timely, too: October is National Bullying Prevention Month, and the messages of kindness and positivity reinforce the school’s ongoing efforts to create a safe and welcoming environment for all students.
The fourth-grade teachers hope to fill the tree with leaves by the end of October.
“It was a small effort on our part,” Bergeron said, “but I think it will have a lasting impact. Kindness becomes something the kids can see and touch and hold. And we can always use more kindness.”