SCOTCH PLAINS/FANWOOD, NJ -- Terrill Middle School has embarked on a year-long, school-wide Kindness Initiative. Throughout the school term, students and staff will engage in activities that support kindness, caring, empathy, and compassion for others.  

The year began with three student leadership groups planning, implementing, and facilitating a project around the picture book, Each Kindness. Under the leadership of their peers, students, students in grades 5-8 discussed the meaning of using every opportunity to be proactive about reaching out to offer a word of encouragement, a helping hand, or a smile. Through small group sessions, participants developed scenarios and made suggestions regarding how to handle challenging social situations.

This event ignited the mantra of paying it forward. For this phase of the Kindness Campaign, all students were given a locker tag with an act of kindness printed on it. Students had the option to perform the act of kindness on the tag or one of their choosing. From there, recipients of kind acts were encouraged to report the acts done for them.  

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As one of many related extensions of the Each Kindness kick-off activity, a lesson was designed for the 7th grade TMS students to examine the scientifically proven benefits of being kind. After a rationale of the lesson was shared, students watched a short video to learn about the biological response to kindness-- specifically, the release of certain neurotransmitters “the natural ‘feel good’ brain chemicals” that affect our mood, and lower our levels of stress.

Students read several research-based articles that identified the personal, biological, social, and emotional effects of receiving, witnessing, or participating in a kind act. Students discussed an article, “Getting the right D.O.S.E., (dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin, and endorphins) to naturally boost our level of happiness,” which explains the chemistry of the brain’s reward system and its connections to kindness.

In another article, students examined the kindness-reward chain, also known as the “psychological feedback loop”, which is responsible for making people more altruistic; and, an altruistic lifestyle attributes to happiness. Being kind is linked to pro-social behaviors and helps reduce social anxiety. Students identified the medial prefrontal cortex of the brain as an area that deals with empathy, which is proven to be a learned skill.

Using these facts and many more, students collaborated with their group members to design a “scientific based kindness” poster to be displayed in the school to share their findings with their peers.