TOWACO, NJ - The Fifth Grade Character Education Committee of Cedar Hill Elementary School traveled to Rider University, in Lawrence Township, New Jersey, on Friday, May 29. There the Towaco students accepted the New Jersey State School of Character Award.

A variety of conference attendees at the New Jersey Association for Social & Emotional Character Development (NJASECD) were also treated to a presentation by Cedar Hill’s Character Education Committee members. The students’ topic focused on Cedar Hill’s Kindness Kafé, which received a 2015 Promising Practices Award on May 8, from character.org.

The twelve students explained the origins of the Kafé initiative, and answered questions as to how the Kindness Kafé is helping students practice being respectful of others and to find support for themselves, their classmates, their school and their community.

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“The Kindness Kafé is the brainchild of students and parents who had a vision for an empty classroom and turned it into an amazing inviting space,” said School Counselor, Heather Praml.

The students described how, working together with families and teachers, they painted the walls and stocked the room with books and games. They also told of how Industrial

Arts students from Montville Township High School assisted in building a futon for the space, and how senior citizens volunteer to teach courses like knitting to the elementary student body.

Students and teachers plan special events for the Kindness Kafé, and every day there is anopportunity for students to gather for social events or to find quiet time.

In decorating the Kafé, students painted inspirational quotes from Martin Luther King, Jr., Dr. Seuss, and Ralph Waldo Emerson onto canvases which they hung on the walls. Additionally, tables and doors in the Kafé were painted with chalkboard paint so students can write positive messages to one another.

“The Kindness Kafé has become the center for students to gather and participate in numerous activities that focus on the Character Education concept,” Praml said.

Some of the activities include organizing fundraisers and drives for those less fortunate, or sharing quality time with senior citizens.

“When students are having a difficult day at school, perhaps due to a disagreement with a friend, a difficult situation at home or academic stress, they can enter the Kindness Kafé, grab a book, listen to classical music and sit in a beanbag chair to relax.” Praml explained. “A student who comes in crying, angry, or upset always leaves with a smile.”

Praml also uses the Kindness Kafé as a classroom. Weekly she teaches Character Education lessons which focus on conflict resolution, respect, compassion, perseverance, honesty and responsibility.

Students learn about respect for self, others, property and the community through literature, art, games and other activities.

Cedar Hill’s Kindness Kafé is an extension of the school’s long history of award-winning Character Education. The Kafé provides an additional opportunity for student centered engagement in learning and the on-going development of Character Education in the school community.

Of the twelve students who accepted the New Jersey State School of Character Award at Rider University, three were upperclassmen who are alumni of Cedar Hill Elementary School, and who serve as mentors for the school’s current student body. The other nine were fifth graders at Cedar Hill Elementary.

The students who attended the event include: Shane Harper (Alumnus), Brandon Calandra, Vincent Territo, Jakub Garbien, Mats Kolmodin, Luke Becker (Alumnus), Matthew Husti (Alumnus), Alexandra Velez, Olivia Waltsak, Madison Keezer, Aastha Desai, and Sara Sherman.