Buckets were overflowing at Chester M. Stephens Elementary School on Friday, May 23, when 112 students, as well as volunteers and teachers participated in the sixth annual Kindness Tour.
CMS Principal Gayle Dierks attended this year’s tour for the first time to experience first hand the acts of kindness and goodness spread into the community by her students. Dierks, the founding principal at the elementary school since it opened 13 years ago, could not pass up the opportunity to help stretch that rainbow this time around as she will be retiring this school year.
With three filled busses and parents in cars following behind, the Kindness Tour included stops at a nursing home, food pantry, post office and a visit from a local animal shelter. Moments brought tears to Dierk’s eyes, grateful to finally take part.
“The Tour was awesome!” says Dierks. “I loved it all but especially the Nursing Home where the students sing songs to the residents that they have learned this year and apply to Kindness. All the audience just loved it and we all had tears in our eyes especially as they sang the school song.
“I am proud of the students and staff and all of our Rainbow Connections and how it has evolved into such a large component of our school and how important it is to everyone,” says Dierks.
“This was the first year I was able to go on the Kindness Tour,” she adds. “Because the Nursing Home is out in Independence it takes all morning to attend so it is sometimes hard to leave the building with everything else that goes on for that length of time. This being my last year I wanted to experience the Tour with the students.”
This year’s tour included the Warren Haven Nursing Home, The Trinity Methodist Church Food Pantry and Midnight Run Service, Post-Office to mail letters to army soldiers, an animal shelter visit and a presentation by Life-Vest Organization.
For their first stop at the Warren Haven Nursing Home, the children sang in the multi-purpose room to about 30 residents. The students sang five songs all with a Kindness Theme; two student pianist played a song on the piano; the boys and girls made rainbow tissue flowers for the residence and handed each one after their performance, describes Ann Scotland, CMS second grade teacher and organizer of the Kindness Tour.
From there, students visited the Trinity Methodist Church Food Pantry in Hackettstown to experience “how easy it is to gather a few canned goods and be of service to another,” says Scotland. “The boys and girls witnessed first-hand that when several people come together for a cause a huge difference can be made.”
At the food pantry, they worked in a team-like fashion to sort the food, using their skills to read labels, categorize, and place canned goods in the appropriate place.
“Using partnership and their own two hands, the children were able to assist in this task,” says Scotland.
They also learned how the pantry operates and the importance of its operation.
“The children absorbed the fact that over 1,000 mouths are fed each month from this pantry alone,” says Scotland. “It was clear that there is a strong need for such a management. They also noted the collaboration of adult volunteers that offer their time in order to serve the surrounding community.”
For their last stop of the tour, students visited the Budd Lake Post Office to mail their letters they each personally wrote in class to army soldiers.
Besides learning “the correct way of addressing an envelope,” the boys and girls got to write about why they value the military.
“The boys and girls thanked the men and women for their service,” explains Scotland. “They thanked them for keeping our country safe. Some students shared why they loved being an American. Others wrote about a family member that is in the military.” The letters are sent to Fort-Dix, and from there some will be sent out to soldiers serving overseas.
When students returned to CMS, they received a visit by a woman named “Orly” who spoke to the students about “Kindness.” She is involved in an organization called Life-Vest Co., which works to keep people around the world “afloat” with Kindness.
Students also got to learn about therapy dogs, the importance of adoption, and fostering pets during their visit from Russ Newman and his wife, who are volunteers at Eleventh Hour Rescue. They brought their therapy dog, Turner, who works with children and the elderly.
Like years past, the Kindness Tour reaches out to corners of the community to spread acts of good will.
“Every year is special when sharing in this tour,” says Scotland. “There are many moments throughout the day that sticks to your heart. It starts when you turn the corner to go up Sunset Drive in the morning. You can’t miss the inspiring signs posted and made about kindness. They are placed in yard after yard” made from alumni or other supporters of the trip.
Inside the school, “parent volunteers have decorated the halls with signs, balloons, and this year the kids’ rainbow hands (making a difference with our own two hands,)” says Scotland.
”Students arrive in their Kindness Matters T-Shirts and bright smiles, so enthused about going out and offering the best of them,” describes Scotland. “Together we say an oath about kindness, Mrs. Dierks cuts the ribbon and down the halls we go to load the buses. Alumni participants, teachers and parents clap us out as we get on the buses. Following the buses are a train of parent cars ready to get involved too. Their cars are painted with messages of kindness. The energy is electric and the experience is powerful. It’s the type of lesson you can’t wait to share in.”
What a wonderful lasting impression for the school’s leader.
“Mrs. Dierks has always been very supportive of this trip,” says Scotland. “As principal she has always been very accommodating with the needs of this outing. This year however, Mrs. Dierks decided to go out on the road with us. After cutting the ribbon back at the school, she hit the road and went to every stop. She participated in each activity side by side with the students. The teachers, boys and girls loved having her join in on the day. It was a treat.
“You know you have something wonderful when students, teachers, administrators, and parents all come together for the cause,” adds Scotland. “We even had two student teachers from William Patterson University that recently graduated come back and share in the event. There is no better lesson.”
To help make the trip happen, Target has provided a Target Field Trip Grant every year to provide this “Promising Practice” to the students, an act of kindness CMS second grade teachers are very thankful for, adds Scotland as well as all the volunteers and donations.
Families were asked to donate three canned goods for the food pantry, a poster board for a yard sign, a stamped envelope for letters to troops, a gently used towel or can of dog food for the pet shelter and a pair of new socks for the homeless.
“I think the students learned a lot about giving and not everyone is as fortunate as they are,” concludes Dierks. “The Trinity Church did a great presentation on the pantry and the people that come to get the food and also about the homeless folks they assist during their Midnight Rides into NYC. It is also different to bring in cans of food and actually go to where they are distributed and hear about the people that need it.”
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