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posted: Wed, Sep 20th, 2017
River guide Natasha talks with the guide from the previous week, Caden Ginsberg

A river of kindness

This school year, second-graders in Ann Scotland’s and Dawn Walsh’s classes are living life on the river. Rafting is the theme that the two veteran educators have chosen this year to reinforce the importance of kindness in daily life.

To begin the school day, each class is lead by a student river guide in reciting “The Pledge of Kindness” from a big board in the room:

I pledge to myself, on this very day

To try to be kind, in every way

To every person, big or small

I will help them, if they fall

When I love myself, and others too

That is the best, that I can do 

Adorned with a safety vest and tube/faux life preserver, the pledge board underscores the class theme and encourages a spirit of student comradery: They’re all in the raft together.

“On the first day of school I asked the students some of the ways they can show kindness in class,” Mrs. Scotland said. “They came up with ideas such as ‘sharing our tools’ and ‘helping out when someone gets stuck.’ With each new idea, I blew up the tube a little bit more until it was fully inflated. The visual helped kids understand that we are holding each other up, we’re a team. Each student signs the tube, making it our classroom contract and commitment. It will hang in our classroom all year as a visual reminder of our obligations to one another.”

Part of the instructional process

The river allegory is not just a part of character education, however; it flows through the instructional process.

When prompted, students hold up numbers indicating how difficult they feel a particular assignment will be. Inspired by Mrs. Scotland’s first rafting trip over the summer, the scale corresponds to the intensity of white water rapids.

A one means smooth sailing (e.g. an activity using skills they’ve already mastered).

A three means challenging (e.g. an assignment combining mastered skills and new skills).

A five means complex, and formidable (e.g. an assignment that takes research, time, and planning).

Having students gauge an assignment asks them to consider their own ability levels and the skills necessary to complete the assignment. More importantly, it shows Mrs. Scotland and Mrs. Walsh which students may need a helping hand. 

The river guides also have a much more important role to play than kindness pledge leaders. Chosen weekly for displaying exemplary conduct or outstanding school work, the river guides have the responsibility of keeping their peers afloat by being a source of academic assistance, support, and encouragement. Sitting in desks adorned with tubes and paper oars, they occupy places of honor in the classrooms.

Shreya Shetty, a student in Ann Scotland's class, leads her classmates in the recitation of "The Pledge of Kindness"
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Chester M. Stephens Elementary School
99 Sunset Drive Budd Lake, NJ 07828
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