For many children going to school can be a challenging experience. Fear and insecurity can often cause great kids to act in less than positive and constructive ways. It has been estimated that 160,000 children miss school every day out of fear of being harassed or attacked by another student.
Bullying, targeted viciousness, and violence in our schools have become a national concern. In 2004, Orchard Elementary School in Orem, Utah found itself with an especially difficult 6th grade class. Many of these students, both male and female, were forming predatory cliques that seemed devoted to teasing, belittling and bullying other students before, during, and after school. "There was little empathy or respect for one another," said Principal Brent Palmer, "A lot of the kids were wonderful, but those that were causing problems were pretty aggressive." Deciding to take matters into her own hands, a mother of one of the "problem" boys asked his teacher, Lisha Hill, to allow her to try an experiment.
She gathered all the 6th grade classes together and read them the book, "Ordinary Mary's Extraordinary Deed" by Emily Pearson, in which Mary, an ordinary girl from an ordinary school on her way to her ordinary house, stumbles upon ordinary blueberries. When she decides to pick them for her neighbor, Mrs. Bishop, she starts a chain reaction that multiplies around the world.
Mrs. Bishop makes blueberry muffins and gives them to her paperboy and four others - one of whom is Mr. Stevens, who then helps five different people with their luggage - one of whom is Maria, who then helps five people - including a man named Joseph who didn't have enough money for his groceries - and so on, until the deed touches every single person on the planet and finally comes back to Mary. After reading and discussing this book, the entire 6th grade decided to set a goal of leaving their school with 15,000 good deeds by the time they graduated. The results were astounding.
Not only did they reach their goal, but the entire tone and climate of the school changed as a result. "All the kids really became one cohesive group," said Hill, "Popular kids started reaching out to less popular kids and several kids left cliques they were in and forged new friendships. It was really hard for some of them emotionally but it turned out to be a really great thing. This program pulled kids out of the shadows, included them in social interactions and made them more aware of the ratio of positive to negative things they do.
" In 2006, other Utah schools also began successfully implementing this program. By taking the focus off of negative behaviors and getting children, teens, and even adults united in a positive goal, a difference can be made -- and that difference can be huge.
Don L. Wright, Ph.D. has been an educator for more than 30 years. For more information on the Extraordinary Deeds Program or the book Ordinary Mary's Extraordinary Deed" go to http://www.ordinarymary.org.