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Creating a culture of kindness

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STORY TIME: Riverview Elementary third graders listen to Character Ed teacher Tracey Steenbergh read a story. Steenbergh teaches the Choose to Be Nice program curriculum at Riverview.
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CRAFTING KINDNESS: Riverview Elementary kindergarten students hold up a quilt made from their ideas of ways they can be nice to each other.

BY Carolyn Muyskens - cmuyskens@chronicle-tribune.com

Being kind is a choice you can make every day.

That’s the lesson Riverview Elementary is trying to instill in its students through a new curriculum, Choose to Be Nice, which the school debuted at the beginning of the school year. Riverview is the first school in the state to use the growing program.

The Marion school is currently the featured school on the Choose to Be Nice website.

Character Ed teacher Tracey Steenbergh said the program helps kids realize that they have control over their actions and can choose to treat each other well.

“I hear a lot of kids say, well, I didn’t have a choice, this was happening,” Steenbergh said. “(We’re teaching them) there are certain things that you can control and certain things that you can’t control. … No matter what’s going on around you, you can choose to be nice.

“It’s such a simple concept, but there’s so much to unpack,” Steenbergh said.

Principal Lendon Schwartz said it’s exciting to get in on the ground floor of the new curriculum.

“We do Giant things here. … Jumping into this program knowing we were the first made it more fun and more exciting,” Schwartz said.

The program focuses on one character trait each month. Students also vote each month for a student who best represents each character trait and there are school-wide challenges for each trait, too.

Wednesday’s challenge of the day was to pick up a piece of trash.

Fourth grader Kaiden King said he’s learned “that you can be nice in many different ways to many different people.”

Kindergarten students collected some of those many ways to be nice and crafted a quilt out of their ideas, for example sharing toys. The quilt will hang in the school’s stairwell.

Schwartz said the program unites the whole school to focus on one character trait each month, so in math and reading classes teachers can continue to reinforce the same concepts the kids are hearing in Character Ed. “It really is a team effort,” Steenbergh said.

“We have seen a positive change in how our students respond to things on the playground,” Schwartz said.

Fourth grader JoRel Christian said the program has taught him that it can be fun to work as part of a team.

“I definitely have been a lot nicer,” Christian said.

The Choose to Be Nice promise is “I promise to help spread kindness wherever and whenever possible. And to the very best of my ability, I’ll be nice to those with whom I come into contact on a daily basis.”

Another Marion Community Schools celebration of kindness, the Kindness Rally, is this Friday from 5:30 to 8 p.m. at the Marion High School gym.