Mijares: Orange County students are making a difference through kindness

In December 2016, sixth-grade teacher Mandy Kelly asked her class at Trabuco Mesa Elementary School in the Saddleback Valley Unified School District to perform one random act of kindness every day for an entire month.

They obliged, jotting down each entry. But when the calendar flipped to January, Mrs. Kelly’s students didn’t stop. They decided to keep going, proving that kindness can be habit-forming.

In the months that followed, the students began calling themselves “SAKtivists,” with the first three letters referencing “Student Acts of Kindness.” They even made a logo and printed business cards encouraging others to pay kindness forward.

An image of Orange County Superintendent Al Mijares

This year, they’ve added a new wrinkle. Every Monday, Mrs. Kelly’s students in Rancho Santa Margarita produce a short video calling on others to meet a specific kindness challenge. Through an online form, they’ve received responses from nearly 70 schools across 16 states. They’ve heard from classes as far away as Ireland, Scotland, England and Canada.

“They just ran with it,” Mrs. Kelly said. “I had no plan or path for where I was going to take this. It just started from an idea for them to think outside of themselves during the holiday season.”

As we approach another holiday season, it’s important to remind young people of their power to make a difference in this world through acts of kindness, and they don’t have to be big-ticket productions.

Greeting a new student at school. Picking up a discarded wrapper. Holding the door for someone. Helping a sibling with his or her homework. Even the simplest gesture can have a profound impact by inspiring others, creating a ripple effect that becomes impossible to measure.

“Just seeing an opportunity and taking it, it just creates such a great habit and a love for loving others later in life,” one of the original SAKtivists, now in the eighth grade, told the OCDE Newsroom. “And I think that’s really important, especially when there’s a lot of bad in the world.”

There’s a lot to unpack in that quote, including the reality that children are all too aware of the tragedies and incivilities that dominate the news cycle. But it’s important to remind them that most people are kind, and there is an abundance of compassion all around us.

We’ve learned this through our own One Billion Acts of Kindness campaign, which encourages everyday people to log their good deeds on the kindness1billion.org website and through our free app for iOS and Android devices.

Aligning with our efforts to support social-emotional learning and development, OCDE launched One Billion Acts of Kindness in 2016 to improve school climates, promote character and rally the community for greater civility. Since then, more than 10.6 million good deeds, large and small, have been submitted.

Of course we still have a long way to go to reach a billion. But if we are to reach that goal, it will be because we have collectively made a commitment to live in a better world based on a bedrock of shared values and respect for others.

It will also be because students are taking ownership of kindness, embedding love and compassion into all aspects of their lives.

For evidence this is already happening, look no further than a group of ambitious SAKtivists at Trabuco Mesa Elementary School.