When a children’s book editor from National Geographic visited a group of third graders at Carlin Springs Elementary School in Arlington, Virginia, she fielded a bunch of questions about wildlife. Topping the list – what’s the deadliest creature on the planet? It’s not a shark or a lion, as some of the children guessed, so she gave them a hint: It’s an annoying insect that causes a lot of itching in the summertime.
“The answer is the mosquito,” said Rebecca Baines of National Geographic Kids, who delivered a box full of the organization’s best-selling nonfiction children’s books to the school’s library. “In many countries, the mosquito carries deadly diseases like malaria.”
Carlin Springs Elementary was one of 26 schools that National Geographic Kids visited as part of the 26 Acts of Kindness project – a glimmer of goodness after the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut. The kids at Carlin Springs didn’t know National Geographic was participating in program that resulted from the shooting – they were just happy about the new books and to hear stories about animals, like a Russian bear named Yasha.
“The tragedy at Newtown reminds us how fragile life is, and how innocent and treasured our children are,” said Carlin Springs librarian Meg Shryver. “Working at a school really brings it home, and it’s so wonderful that something positive can happen in the wake of the tragedy. The students here are so excited – they love National Geographic books. We can’t keep them on the shelves!”
The 26 Acts of Kindness project started as a tweet from NBC’s Ann Curry: “What if? Imagine if everyone could commit to doing one act of kindness for every one of those children killed in Newtown.”
Soon, people around the country began to pay it forward with their own acts of kindness — many of them educators and students in our public schools. One is North Haven Middle School in North Haven, Connecticut, where eighth-grade science teacher Clara Laster asked her students to write down their acts of kindness on slips of paper, which she collects in a big plastic jar. They plan to have the jar filled by the end of the school year.
At Colonie Central High School in Albany, New York, nearly 2,000 students committed to 26 Acts of Kindness in 26 days. The students received a black ribbon with the number 26 on it every time an educator witnessed their good deeds.
At Ridgeway Elementary School in Hamilton, Ohio, the principal sent students home with a letter explaining the 26 Acts of Kindness project and offering suggestions for acts that young children could do, like picking up litter or opening the door for someone or making a donation. One student cut out dozens of hearts, wrote “Be Kind” on them, and handed them out to strangers, including Debbie Onkst who received one while standing in line at the drug store.
“She didn’t say anything to me, but just smiled so sweetly, and I promised her that I would keep it forever,” Onkst told the Journal News. “When I got home, I told my husband that I might have had an encounter with an angel.”
On Friday, February 15, the country was reminded once again of the tragedy at Sandy Hook and the bravery of the educators there as President Obama posthumously awarded the nation’s second-highest civilian medal to the six educators who were killed.
“Your loved ones… gave everything,” Obama told relatives of the victims at a White House ceremony in which he presented the Citizens Medal. “Hopefully we will all draw inspiration from this and remember why it is that we’re lucky to be living in the greatest nation on earth.”
The 26 Acts of Kindness project is still continuing to draw inspiration at schools around the country.
“You can start where you are as a positive movement and it spreads throughout,” Amy Frazier, a school counselor at Randolph Elementary in Topeka, Kansas, where students are performing 26 Acts of Kindness throughout the month of February, told WIBW.com. “It just takes one spark and it continues.”