Learning KINDNESS; Students Acting on Human Values Show a Change in Attitude from Self-Centered 'Me' to Helping 'You'

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Byline: Shelley Widhalm, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Giving up a seat on the bus, picking up a dropped purse and loaning out a pair of gloves - these are random acts of kindness students at McKinley Technology High School in Northeast are doing on a daily basis.

"I don't expect anything back," says 17-year-old Jazmine Dorsey, a junior at McKinley Technology High School. "It makes me feel good to know I helped people."

Jazmine attended a weekly assembly Feb. 13 at her school conducted by the Art of Living Foundation, an international nonprofit educational and humanitarian organization with its national headquarters in Northwest.

The Art of Living Foundation encouraged students in grades 3 to 12 to do acts of kindness at home and at school for 30 days in January or February through its Kids for Kids and Teens for Teens human-values education programs. Students from 50 schools nationwide, including seven schools in the District, reflected on their daily acts and expressed through writing and art what a world filled with human values - such as kindness, friendliness, honesty, generosity and compassion - would look like. The students planned and executed a community service project for their school and community.

"How do we have students make the right decision the first time rather than adults reacting to negative behaviors?" asks Daniel Gohl, principal of McKinley Technology High School. "We are giving them an experience base to think before they act - that pausing to consider what comes next and using good values to make good choices."

Besides McKinley Technology High School, the Academy for Ideal Education's high school in Northeast and elementary school in Northwest, Options Charter School in Northeast, Myrtilla Miner Elementary School in Northeast, Bell Multicultural High School in Northwest, Garrett Park Elementary School in Garrett Park, and the Urban Nation Hip Hop Choir in Northwest are participating in the human-values education programs.

Art of Living Foundation teachers visit the schools once a week to facilitate a discussion and engage students in a game, skit or other interactive process that focuses on human values. The teachers visit individual classrooms for a half-hour session or hold an assembly for several classrooms or an individual grade level.

"It's become personal. They can look in their own lives for situations where they can help," says Uma Viswanathan, assistant director of youth programs for the Art of Living Foundation. "It really brings it to life and makes it a tangible day-to-day reality."

Emily Peck, director of youth programs for the foundation, has noticed a shift in attitude when students engage in random acts of kindness from self-centeredness to selfless service, she says.

"The human values come out in a shift of attitude from 'what about me' to 'what can I do for you?' " Ms. Peck says. "It becomes their own knowledge when they experience kindness, cooperation and friendliness in their day-to-day life."

A change in attitude leads to action and to acts of kindness, followed by new patterns of behavior, she says.

"It's so beautiful to see kids taking pride in kindness," she says. "This program shifts their attitude, so they feel proud of being friendly and of being kind."

When students share their acts of kindness, their faces light up, Ms. Viswanathan says.

"They're overflowing with wanting to tell us what they've done," she says.

Ms. Peck and Ms. Viswanathan asked students at McKinley Technology High School to list some of the human values and express how acting them out through random acts of kindness made them feel. …