Be The Kind Kid Club fills Highlands Elementary with joy

Posted by Jeremy Tepper on 2/9/2024

As Hailey Hamilton and Kristy Skradski began planning to start a Be The Kind Kid Club at Highlands Elementary School, they reached out to peers for advice.

Teachers at Hamilton’s previous school district, Hampton Township, had advised Hamilton to cap the club at 50 students, to make organizing it more manageable. When word spread of the club’s inception at the beginning of the school year, though, interest went through the roof.

“It seems like every kid has brought me a permission slip, and we have 100-plus kids in the club,” said Hamilton, a 4th grade teacher in the district. “It’s awesome.”

The Be the Kind Kid Club concept started at Avonworth Primary Center in 2016, and has spread to several school districts in Western Pennsylvania. The concept revolves around an after-school club that preaches kindness and giving back. 

At Highlands Elementary, the club consists of 3rd and 4th grade students. Hamilton and Skradski, a school counselor, head the club, but numerous teachers — both current and retired — volunteer their time to keep the club organized.

“As educators and as people who are doing the right things for families and students, I think we need to take advantage of any opportunity to spread the message of kindness,” said Dr. Stanley Whiteman III, Highlands Elementary principal. “We have amazing students and families here. 

The club meets once a month, although students throughout the school are encouraged to wear their Be The Kind Kid shirts every Wednesday. Implementation of the club has been funded by Project SEEKS SES, a partnership between the Allegheny Intermediate Unit (AIU) and the Allegheny County Health Department (ACHD) that addresses trauma, behavior and mental health issues in ten school districts.

During February’s meeting, students were hard at work creating friendship buttons and bracelets. The buttons and bracelets are to be sold at school, with all money raised going to The Promise House, a homeless facility in Brackenridge. In previous fundraising efforts in December, students raised $1,010 selling ornaments and buttons. Hamilton said the club plans to visit The Promise House in the future.

“I think it’s important for them — especially at this young age — to feel involved, and to be a part of something. They love being in this club, and I think it makes them feel like they have an impact and are part of a group,” said Hamilton. “This is a place where they can just hang out, have fun and do something good for the community.” 

“We had some parents giving their kids 50 dollars, so they could spend it on 50 dollars worth of buttons,” Dr. Whiteman said of December’s fundraising efforts. “Parents are buying into it.”

Students throughout the school are buying in, too, whether they’re part of the club or not. Highlands Elementary has a special focus on rewarding good behavior through their PBIS system (Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports). Students are encouraged to be RAMS students, an acronym that stands for Respectful, Accountable, Motivated and Safe.

The club ties nicely into that initiative, and both Whiteman and Hamilton said they’ve noticed a difference in behavior since the club began.

“We see very few discipline referrals in teacher’s classrooms because they’ve created a community within their classrooms,” Dr. Whiteman said.

“I definitely have seen a difference in my class, and I know a lot of teachers take it to their rooms too,” Hamilton added. “We always tell them you should be walking the hallways as a kind kid, and they hold themselves to that standard.”

As the club evolves, Hamilton said it’ll likely expand to include additional grade levels. Highlands Elementary — already brimming with kindness and camaraderie — only looks to become an even more cheerful community.

“There are students that usually never get to work together that are able to sit down and do these projects together in the club,” Dr. Whiteman said. “How could that not make you smile and fill your heart with joy, knowing that these kids — at least once a month — get to sit down and do something kind that’s going to affect someone else’s life.”