The morning before the terrorist attacks in Paris, I was at a Fresno elementary school for World Kindness Day.
And the children – like children so often do – were showing me how much kinder, and wiser, the world could be.
Starr Elementary School in northwest Fresno has a Kind Kids Club, and on Friday morning they were busy passing out around 500 bracelets with yellow smiley faces, asking friends and strangers at their school to be kind. Children also signed a large poster, further cementing this pledge.
Before the bracelets were doled out, first-graders colored pictures and wrote messages across the blacktop in chalk, messages such as “Have a big heart.”
Brody Musgrave, 6, wrote “Don’t be a bully” next to a picture of a smiling person in “bubble land.”
“It’s a fun place that the air shoots bubbles and you get to pop them.”
There are no bullies in bubble land.
“Bullies are mean and they say bad words and they try to hurt people.”
Brody is not a bully. He sings songs and reads books to his baby cousin, gives flowers to people and tells the teacher when he sees someone who has been hurt.
And, “if the people don’t have a friend, then I can go and see if they want to be my friend, because they don’t have no one to play with.”
Brody is just one of many children who have been members of the Kind Kids Club, founded in 2012 by first-grade teacher Marceen Farsakian. The club was featured in a special video by the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation and Farsakian is now working on a kindness handbook to help other teachers create clubs of their own.
First-graders in Farsakian and Lori Catron’s classrooms are members of the club and – at the urging of former students – Farsakian expanded the idea to include a club meeting once a month after school for children of all ages. Between 30 and 45 students normally attend these meetings.
“Instead of teaching my kids about not bullying, I decided to teach my kids about being kind,” Farsakian says. “Instead of focusing on the negative, we are focusing on the positive.”
Principal Charlie Reynolds sees the growing impact of the club’s kindness every day.
“It’s the little things, like we now have a buddy bench,” Reynolds says. “If you are out at recess and you don’t have someone to play with, you sit on the buddy bench and kids will actually go over when they see someone sitting there and invite them into play. … Now the kids are starting to feel that we accept everybody, and that kind of mindset with our kids is what makes the difference.”
I think about this later after learning a friend from college was a block away from a massacre in Paris.
Something else, kinda cheesy, comes to my mind – a warning from Yoda in “Star Wars”: “Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”
I wish we embraced, instead of feared, our differences. I wish ISIS fighters had been in a Kind Kids Club. I wish the world could live in peace.
A 9-year-old girl who received a kindness bracelet at Starr Elementary also tells me something pretty Yoda-esque.
“If somebody was really mean to another person because somebody did something bad to them, maybe if you’re kind to them, they’ll be kind to everybody else,” Seniah Molina says.
To become a member of the Kind Kids Club, children perform 10 random acts of kindness. They also do things such as gather donations for Community Food Bank (even leaving special notes and treats in bags for other kids), raise funds for Valley Children’s Hospital, and scatter drawings of things such as “kindness monsters” around town to brighten up people’s days.
The children’s enthusiasm for giving and receiving kindness bracelets on Friday is infectious.
A group of second-graders pause during a basketball game to talk about how cool kindness is. They were in the Kind Kids Club in first grade. They say it’s “really good to remember it.”
Why be kind?
“So nobody gets hurt.”
“Because it reflects in others and it’s going to be kind forever.”
Across the field near a chain link fence, 9-year-old Seniah just received her kindness bracelet.
“It kind of feels like they are actually giving it to you because they want to make you feel better because they notice that you’re sad.”
Friend Malia Alvarez, 9, puts an arm around Seniah’s shoulder.
With a big smile, throwing her arms into the air, Malia says, “Everyone should be kind!”
First-grader Madeline Flores says “kindness is love to everyone” after drawing a blue sky in chalk over the message, “Kindness is sharing and caring.”
Later, in Farsakian’s class, 6-year-old Bowman Howard writes about passing out kindness bracelets.
“It was very fun. I liked how kids were smiling.”
A classmate sitting beside him glances at Bowman’s notebook and asks, “Whoa, what is that?”
“Exclamation! Exclamation! Exclamation! Exclamation! Exclamation!” Bowman says proudly.
Benjamin Smith, 7, also likes being kind.
“If you do one random act of kindness then everybody would feel like doing it to other people and then the whole world would be kind! Even aliens would be kind – if they were real.”
(For the record, Benjamin says scientists think there might have been life on Mars.)
Reynolds has the utmost respect for what Farsakian has done at Starr Elementary.
“She’s worked to really change the culture of our school. She’s brought in an awareness of how we treat each other and an awareness of how our actions impact other, and through all of that, we’ve seen our school become a softer place.”