SHERIDAN — Kindness comes in many forms. Sharing a smile, giving a hug or opening a door for someone are simple yet potentially powerful acts.
Despite their impact, kind deeds often fly under the radar. Sheridan High School is making a point to acknowledge niceties with its “Caught Being Kind” initiative in which students are awarded T-shirts for doing a kind deed.
SHS students from Sources of Strength and student council collaborated to make Caught Being Kind a reality, with the assistance of grant funding.
Cloud Peak Energy has a monthly program to benefit education called One School at a Time, which is done in partnership with Q2 KTVQ news station in Billings. SHS competed last month for the top grant prize with two Montana schools. People could vote online for the school of their choice, and SHS won first-place and received $2,000 to purchase kindness shirts for students.
SHS faculty and staff already had similar shirts that student council purchased earlier, but the grant enabled SHS to order 300 T-shirts to award to students who performed acts of kindness. The school also received 73 additional shirts at a cost of $500 last week, courtesy of Concept Z Home and Property.
The initiative had ideal timing. National Random Acts of Kindness Day occurred Feb. 17, and the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation celebrated Random Acts of Kindness Week earlier this month.
The shirts arrived Feb. 12, and 70 shirts had been given out to students as of Feb. 21. SHS special education teacher Gretchen McCafferty designed the shirts, which are yellow with blue writing that spells out “CHOOSE KIND” with a blue Broncs logo on top.
When a teacher or staff member sees a student being kind, he or she awards the student a shirt immediately or shortly after and explains why. Students have received shirts for working with special education students, picking up food in the cafeteria, having a consistently joyful personality and sharing gum with an entire class.
All the different reasons for giving out a shirt are kept on a spreadsheet and will likely be put on a poster at the end of February, along with a group photo of all the students who received T-shirts.
Senior class vice president and Sources of Strength member Olivia Thoney said it has been encouraging to see some students already wearing the shirts to school, and McCafferty enjoys talking with students sporting their kindness attire.
“I’ve seen a couple kids wear the shirts, and I always like to ask them what they did,” McCafferty said. “One kid said, ‘I picked up food in the lunchroom,’ and I’m like, ‘Who would do that? Who would actually do that? If someone spilled food, who would pick it up?’ And he did, so that was really cool.”
The students plan to continue the project until the shirts are gone.
“We could continue to encourage this and point out kids in the hallway who got a T-shirt and (say), ‘You should strive to be like them; you should strive to also commit random acts of kindness,’” student body president Grace Gustafson said.
Thoney said it was cool to see various students being awarded for nice acts. She also saw a teacher run into another teacher’s classroom to borrow a shirt and give it to a student on the spot.
“It’s fun to see in action because before I think the misconception was that we were bribing kids to be nice with T-shirts,” Thoney said. “But I think in action, these kids just really do these nice things.”
McCafferty doesn’t think the school has done anything similar before. Student council and Sources of Strength have done smaller initiatives on topics like thankfulness, but never on a schoolwide basis.
Instead of explicitly focusing on academics and athletics, the students have turned their attention toward simple yet meaningful examples of kindness and generosity.