It was a PBS segment that sparked Bailey Music Teacher Cathleen Markovitz to spread and celebrate acts of kindness.
Last August, she was watching PBS Greater Boston and heard Christine Guthery, founder and president of SPARK Kindness, speak about her program. Guthery was also promoting the program on National Public Radio.
SPARK (Successful-Positive-Authentic-Resilient-Kids) Kindness developed as a grassroots community effort to address bullying and cyberbullying in Natick, Mass. In 2010, two Natick parents found a need for parents to work together to prevent bullying. Although none of their children had been involved in bullying, they saw that parents and schools were spending a great deal of time dealing with those issues and saw an opportunity for both groups to work together to support a more positive school culture.
A year later, the movement had expanded beyond parents and schools to encompass the Natick community. As it continued to grow, SPARK Kindness was formed. The goal of the organization is to support families and communities in raising kind and empowered youth. The Natick organization now has more than 1,400 community members.
“It sounded like an amazing idea,” said Markovitz.
When Markovitz returned to school in September, she invited Guthery, who has had a lifelong interest in promoting social justice and inclusion, and her colleague Lori Davis, head of the Tobin School and an advisory member of SPARK Kindness, to Bailey to meet with her, Full Services Schools Site Director Marissa Delbarone and parent Pamela Matthews and her third-grade son, Elijah. A month later, Guthery returned to Bailey to meet with 20 teachers and Principal Carolina Creel.
To improve morale and behavior, Bailey launched the SPARK Kindness program. “The amazingly talented teachers at Bailey were extremely enthusiastic and we began to create what we wanted our SPARK school to look like,” said Markovitz. “This program unified and enhanced our school community. Many parents have expressed their appreciation and desire to be more active in their child’s school. It is truly transformative.
“Kindness is contagious and this program has spiraled,” Markovitz added. “We continue to meet at Bailey to create the environment we believe is possible.”
The SPARK Kindness Initiative’s mission follows the one developed by Guthery: To create a community where no child or family feels alone, bullied, unsupported or unconnected. We support families, schools, coaches, artists, faith and community leaders in creating a culture that empowers youth and promotes kindness and respect.
The initiative began last fall with a video of students singing Taylor Swift’s song, “Shake It Off,” which can be seen at: https://www.facebook.com/baileymusicprov.
“This event was the beginning of getting everyone on board and discussing strategies to create our vision of what it means to be kind,” said Markovitz. “We have a long way to go, but it is wonderful to see how far we have come in a short period of time. It is a credit to our staff, students and families that have helped to support the Kindness initiative.”
Kindness awards are given to Bailey students, faculty and staff on a daily basis. A bilingual newsletter was created and distributed to parents with hopes of developing a SPARK Kindness team. A Facebook page and Twitter feed have also been created.
A Poetry Slam, organized by fourth-grade teacher Anna-Maria Urrutia, is scheduled for April 7 with a focus on kindness, love, peace and acceptance of individual differences. Students are writing and performing individual and published poetry while some classes will sing.
The initiative is being practiced by the school’s staff. During the PARCC testing, teacher Julie Lucreziano created Spark the PARCC, which led to 75 treats for each staff member to enjoy during the testing. Taryn Stelmach, the school’s occupational therapist, baked 75 decorated St. Patrick’s Day cookies while another created a translucent stone that reads SPARK Kindness attached to a goodie bag.
Kim Kirtlink, another fourth-grade teacher, and her class created wall art with sticky notes that say, “Give What You Can/Take What You Need,” with words like Hope, Thoughtful, Peace, Enthusiasm, You are appreciated and thoughtful, among many other uplifting messages.
“The list goes on and on,” said Markovitz. “We have a great group of teachers. These acts have continued as more teachers create their own care packages to share with their colleagues.
“We intend to work collaboratively with our families and utilize our individual strengths to achieve our common goal,” Markovitz said.
The next meeting of the SPARK Kindness Initiative at Bailey will be held in the school library on Wednesday, April 29, 2015 at 3:45 p.m.
Updated April 15, 2015:
The name of teacher Barbara Gardner, who created the translucent stones, was accidentally omitted from an earlier version of this article.