Portland school's learning expedition focuses on random acts of kindness

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PORTLAND — The holiday season is typically one of giving and sharing, most commonly between families and friends. But a group of sixth-graders from King Middle School recently took to the streets to spread holiday cheer.

About 80 students canvassed the Old Port to hand out candy, compliments, hand-made bookmarks and cards. The goal was to execute 1,000 “random acts of kindness” in just under two hours. 

The trip was part of the expeditionary learning school’s “Me to We” theme, according to teacher Nancy Germani. The theme requires students to answer three guiding questions: Who am I? What do I bring to the Windsor 6 team? And what is expeditionary learning?

Germani said the idea of spreading kindness throughout the Old Port came up after a school visit by Maine author and inspirational speaker Michael Chase, the founder of Biddeford’s Kindness Center, which teaches personal growth and inspiration through acts of kindness. 

“Students brainstormed ideas, created bookmarks and cards, Hershey Kiss sayings, brought flowers, lollipops, etc.,” Germani said. “Students learned a little more about themselves, more about others, and experienced how great it feels to spread a little kindness.”

She said the expedition sought to foster “wonderful ideas, empathy and caring, service and compassion, and the natural world.” 

All of those components seemed to be in effect one Friday afternoon, as the 80 students broke into smaller groups to spread kindness throughout the Old Port. One group stopped a couple on Commercial Street, and Dianne St. Denis was blown away by the kids.

“A merry heart goes a long way. Shakesphere,” said St. Denis, who is homeless, reading the bookmark she’d just received. “This made my day. I can’t even explain it.”

But not everyone was receptive to the kids, according to several of the teachers, who said some students returned somewhat bruised by their first venture.

“People don’t want to be stopped for more than two seconds,” teacher Dave Mann said. “Some are responsive; others put their heads down and keep walking.”

Undaunted, the teachers and students huddled in Tommy’s Park, where each student kept a tally of their kind acts on a large cut-out of a heart, and drafted a new plan. 

“They learned to approach people saying their name first and that they were not selling anything,” Germani said.

By the time many groups returned, the tally board was so full, it was difficult to find any free space.

Germani said the students ultimately reached their goal of committing 1,000 random acts of kindness in 100 minutes. 

The students also learned that often, when one gives, one receives. 

“A recipient of one of these random acts actually came to find the kids with cookies,” Germani said. “Students came back very excited about their experiences.”

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or rbillings@theforecaster.net

Students note their acts of kindness in Portland’s Tommy’s Park.

Sidebar Elements

King Middle School students stop a couple on Commercial Street to give them a free bookmark and candy as part of a learning expedition about kindness.

One of the bookmarks given out by King Middle School students in the Old Port.