Mitten Tree

From left to right, Josie Clare, Madison Hays, Gary Bias, Kacey Cooper, Avia Bays, Lorelai Harness, Gracie Larcher, Austin Cummings and Bradlee Reffitt pose for a photo with the mitten tree.

SOUTH SHORE McKell Middle School has set up its Mitten Tree to gather various items needed by students for the cold winter months ahead. The Mitten Tree is coordinated by the student school group The Kindness Counts Kids, who have placed a tree in the school’s front entrance and will decorate the tree with the donated items. Suggested items for the tree are socks of all types, gloves/mittens, scarves, hoodies of all sizes and toboggans/caps.

The Kindness Counts Kids group began as part of the school’s anti-bullying programs, School Counselor Cindy Collier said.

“We do a lot of intervention programs here, working alongside the principal’s office,” Collier said. In order to combat bullying and other potential issues, she decided one course of action would be to respond with kindness. “It’s a big issue in so many schools. And we wanted to combat it in a positive way.”

“There was a student in my office one day who told me she wanted to start a new club,” Collier said. “And she helped me to come up with the name, The Kindness Counts Kids.”

The group is relatively small for the large impact it is having. Each member is chosen by teachers from every grade at McKell. The student’s own expressions of kindness and helpfulness to his or her fellow students serve as criteria.

The group meets once per month throughout the school year to decide how to best exhibit the values its name implies and to make kindness count for everyone. The group’s first project was to write positive, encouraging notes and post them on the mirrors in student lockers and in the restrooms.

“The goal was to make every student feel appreciated,” said Michelle Hayden, the school’s family resource coordinator. Hayden works with Collier as faculty advisors to the student group. Other programs the group has been involved in were anti-bullying activities during Safe Schools Week and a “Food Fight,” in which students competed to gather donations for the school’s brown bag lunch program.

Both faculty advisors say they have noticed the group’s positive impact.

“We have had students who aren’t even in the group get involved as well,” Collier said. “Students will come to us with ideas for things we can do, or even just come to tell us that another student had been kind to them.”

“I think it definitely rubs off and inspires the other kids to be mindful of kindness,” Hayden said. “And they get excited about it and are planning ahead on doing things for Valentine’s Day and other holidays. They have a lot of good ideas on how to help their fellow students.”

Collier and Hayden said the idea for the Mitten Tree came from the students themselves. Many of them knew how businesses and other organizations donated coats for the winter months and, wanting to be part of the solution for that need, they put their heads together and decided to gather donations of accessories such as scarves, mittens and other necessary items. One of the students involved, both mentioned proudly, is even planning to use the money she will get for an upcoming birthday to purchase mittens for those who need them.

The Kindness Counts Kids are living up to their name by both raising awareness of needs and gathering solutions. Anyone wanting to help can drop off donations at McKell Middle School or can contact Hayden at (606) 932-3221.

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