SHERIDAN — Tongue River Elementary students gathered in the gym Sept. 26 for the first event of their growing “But First, Kindness” initiative this year, which encourages students to look for opportunities to show kindness to others and to recognize one another for doing so.

Students sang the Tongue River Elementary song together and then began a concentric circle meet and greet activity where older and younger students greeted each other. The activity is a part of a “Start with Hello” program developed by Sandy Hook Promise to combat social isolation.

Tongue River Elementary principal Annie Griffin received an email from the organization and thought it would be a perfect addition to the school’s own initiative, which is now in its third year.

“We’re really trying to just launch into this idea that being kind has to come first,” Griffin said. “We have to have everyone here feel included and feel like they’re part of the TRE family in order for us to be successful.”

The first day this year, students made name badges and went out to recess and greeted each other.

“Kids are like, ‘Mrs. Griffin, can we do that lunch where we sit by the younger kids again?’” Griffin said. “They’re just loving and soaking up being able to mentor the younger kids.”

Students will continue the combined lunches on Tuesdays, which have led to things like older students tying shoes for younger students and catching them when they came off the slide at recess.

“It just breeds good things, it really does,” Griffin said.

The initiative began with handing out “Caught Being an Eagle Leader” cards to students who performed acts of kindness. Last year, the school added a monthly leadership trait to focus on and sent home postcards with students’ pictures on them when they were caught embodying the trait. This year there will be a year-long focus on kindness in addition to the other traits.

Classrooms will have monthly pull-tab posters where students can choose a kind deed to complete and will discuss them with teachers afterward.

On Thursday, students received green and white “But First, Kindness” buttons that they will begin to hand out to others who they feel deserve them.

This year, students will take the initiative beyond the classroom as well. The Tongue River Elementary student council will be handing out the pull-tab posters to local businesses so that any customer who wishes can take a task to complete.

In addition to hanging the posters, students and teachers will challenge businesses to continue to work to spread kindness and report back so the school can recognize them in announcements and newsletters.

“So it’s a promotion of our businesses but it’s also a promotion of our community,” Griffin said. “And as an elementary, we can lead this initiative. Our little kids can lead this initiative. That’s exciting to me, and it helps them feel empowered.”

Students will also be tasked with finding people outside of the school to whom they can pass on buttons.

“Some of these ideas sparked off of that Sandy Hook Promise, but we’re gonna take it and run with it this year, and so that’s the exciting piece,” Griffin said.

Tongue River Elementary students will continue to gather in the gym for kindness events and the school song every third Thursday of the month.