• <p>Liam Odenbach, a kindergartner at St. Rita School in Webster, stands with food that was donated during the school&rsquo;s celebration of Catholic Schools Week. (Photo courtesy of St. Rita School)  </p>

    Liam Odenbach, a kindergartner at St. Rita School in Webster, stands with food that was donated during the school’s celebration of Catholic Schools Week. (Photo courtesy of St. Rita School)

Catholic school in Rochester Diocese challenges kids to be kind

Jennifer Burke/Catholic Courier    |    02.12.2021
Category: Monroe County

“Say ‘thank you’ to a crossing guard or bus driver.”

“Play with someone different every day at recess.”

“Help a younger student if you can.”

These are just three of the 50 acts of kindness students in the third through fifth grades at St. Rita School in Webster were challenged to complete during the first week of February, as the school community participated in the international Great Kindness Challenge.

Students in those grades each received a checklist containing those 50 suggested acts of kindness, while students in kindergarten through second grade received abbreviated checklists, each containing 12 ways the students could show kindness to those with whom they interacted during the week, explained Allan Mutrie, physical education teacher at St. Rita and coordinator of the school’s participation in the Great Kindness Challenge.

“There are no winners or anything. It is just something teachers and students can use throughout the week,” Mutrie said. “Then at the end of the week, they reflect back and discuss what it really means to help one another.”

The Great Kindness Challenge was launched in California in 2011 by a nonprofit called Kids for Peace. It has grown quickly, and in 2020 more than 15 million students from 28,000 schools in 110 countries participated in the challenge, according to the challenge’s website.

“At the heart of the Great Kindness Challenge is the simple belief that kindness is strength,” organizers explained on the challenge’s website. “We also believe that as an action is repeated, a habit is formed. With the Great Kindness Challenge checklist in hand, students have the opportunity to repeat kind act after kind act. As kindness becomes a habit, peace becomes possible.”

Most schools participating in the challenge completed it during the last week of January, but St. Rita’s faculty opted to time its participation in the challenge to coincide with Catholic Schools Week, which was celebrated Jan. 31 through Feb. 6. This year marked St. Rita’s fourth year participating in the challenge, Mutrie said.

“A few years back it fell during our Catholic Schools Week, so we just decided to continue to keep the two events together, as they both fit what we try to teach our students every day,” he remarked.

The challenge provides a nice complement to the activities planned for the week by fifth-grade teacher Emily Sutley and St. Rita’s Catholic Schools Week planning committee, Mutrie said. This year, those activities included a weeklong food drive to benefit Hope House and Vertus Community Cupboard.

“We strive to be a community of love and care here,” said Mutrie, who has taught at St. Rita School for 20 years. “(Kindness) is what makes the world go around. If we can make someone’s day … a little brighter, then that is awesome.”

The students at St. Rita School seem to have embraced this commitment to kindness, according to Principal Mary Ellen Wagner, noting that kindness and compassion have always been hallmarks of Catholic education. In January, students in one class demonstrated this compassion when they worked together to show support for a former classmate whose father, professional wrestler Jon Huber, passed away in late December. Huber’s son had attended St. Rita School from preschool through first grade, when the family moved to Florida some time ago, Wagner said.

“The class that his son had been in, now third-graders, wanted to show their love and support for their former classmate, Brodie,” she said.

Teachers and parents helped the students get T-shirts printed with Brodie’s name and the slogan “Team Huber Forever” emblazoned on the front. The third graders and two teachers who are related to the Huber family posed for a group photo in their matching shirts, and the framed photo was sent to the Huber family “along with some heartfelt messages,” Wagner said.

“It was an absolutely beautiful gesture of compassion and kindness,” she remarked. “When we say we are a school family, this is a wonderful expression of just that.”

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