Third-grader Kiara Perez slightly furrowed her brow while giving serious consideration to the question before her.
She wanted her words to have a certain amount of weight.
“Kindness just doesn’t come from the soul. It comes from the heart too,” said Perez, age 9. “And I’m not afraid to take it out and share it with others.”
Perez was not the only student at Bertrand Elementary in Reseda to feel that way.
“Kindness means to help each other,” said Michael Hernandez, 8, a second grader. “I want to keep doing it.”
Even a shy third grader like Isabella Juarez, age 8, believes that “it’s better to be kind than not be kind.”
Bertrand Elementary is one of 32 LAUSD schools in the northwest and northeast San Fernando Valley participating in the Great Kindness Challenge with activities to promote and inspire acts of kindness, and reject negative behaviors like bullying.
The activities can include walks and parades for kindness to dances and food donations. Each day has a different activity. For example, On Friday, Jan. 27, the students and staff of the Valley Academy of Arts and Sciences in Granada Hills plan to form a giant “peace sign” on the campus’ football field.
“This is our third year (as a sponsor),” said Barbara Gonzalez, a program coordinator for Dignity Health Northridge Hospital. “We started three years ago with 17 schools. The second year we had 22 schools. And this year we have 32 schools, in the northeast and northwest San Fernando Valley, engaging 26,519 students.
Each school receives a tool kit, T-shirts, and gets to design their own activities, Gonzalez said. “It is very much an anti-bullying program, with a positive vibe.”
The event, which annually takes place the last week of January, was the brainchild of the nonprofit Kids for Peace. It began in 2011, and has since grown into a worldwide challenge. According to the organization’s website, more than five million participating students from 8,022 schools in 61 countries reported more than 250 million acts of kindness.
Locally “I believe we’ll have over 650 acts of kindness” by the end of the challenge, Gonzalez said.
In a deeply divided country now represented by a newly elected president and Congress that seems to consider acts of kindness to be a low priority, school activities like this have taken on a greater sense of importance to the thinking of Bertrand Principal Sylvia Guzmán, who said she had students trying to bully others with the the word “Trump” before the election.
“We’re trying to develop the students to work collaboratively along with how to think proactively. So the “Kindness Challenge goes hand in hand,” said Guzmán, who came to Bertrand Elementary from Panorama City Elementary.
“This is the very first time we’re doing it here at Bertrand. We’re in the beginning stages of introducing the concept of the challenge. We just had an assembly not too long ago about bullying, so we’re trying to tie both of these together. We’re hoping this leads to a bigger event next year.”
On Tuesday, Jan. 24, the Bertrand students and their teachers took a “lap of kindness” around their schoolyard, sporting signs and posters made in class and enjoying each other’s company outside in the bright mid-morning sunshine. Some ran, some skipped. Many held hands and chattered excitedly.
“When you’re kind to people you make real friends,” declared Joanna Carmona, 8, a third grader. She said she would continue to practice kindness after this week as well. “Everyone should be kind to each other.”
Another student, Lucia Gonzalez, was proud of her act of kindness that occurred during the campus parade
“When someone was getting tired of walking, I waited for them,” said Gonzalez, age 6, a first grader. She said she would also pass some kindness along to her younger sister who is in kindergarten.
Michael Perez’s older brother Jason, age 9, a fourth grader, admitted he was sometimes mean to his younger brother “because he annoys me.” But when the two of them got home after school this day, Jason said he had a surprise for Michael.
“I’m going to tell him he’s the best brother in the world,” Jason said.