"Smile! It's contagious!"

"Smile! It's contagious!"

This positive statement -- and more than 800 others -- were posted on Dempsey Middle School students' lockers last week as part of a celebration of kindness.

November is Kindness Month at Dempsey, and teachers are challenging their students to be kind.

Students took part in the Great Dempsey Kindness Challenge earlier this month. They were given a list of 32 acts of kindness toward school staff members and fellow students and were encouraged to check them off throughout the week.

Some of the items on the list included smiling at 25 students, complimenting five people, picking up 10 items of trash, offering to help a custodian, befriending a lonely student, stopping mean gossip by changing the subject, and thanking a bus driver.

Guidance counselor Jane Ziegler said she saw the kindness challenge on Pinterest and thought it would be a great thing to try at Dempsey.

"We thought this would be a good follow-up to Mix it Up Day, and also, since we are a Power of One school, a great way to encourage students to make a difference starting with themselves," Ziegler said.

Students watched a video about how kindness can spread when someone "pays forward" a nice gesture someone showed to them.

School staffers are getting in on the movement, too. Teachers and staff were given notecards with fun sayings on them, and they were encouraged to be kind to their fellow staff members.

"The staff are getting into this as well," Ziegler said. "One of the art teachers is having her art club help her decorate cupcakes for all the staff."

The notecards on the lockers were written and distributed by the Dempsey Helpers group, which consists of about 90 students.

The mission of Dempsey Helpers is to make Dempsey a better place. Its members participate in Drug Awareness Week, give tours to new students and come up with other ways to help the community.

"RIght now, they're learning to develop skills to stand up for their friends and see what situations they can handle and which ones they need to ask an adult for help," Ziegler said.

She said although the school environment hasn't entirely changed, she has noticed students speaking up and seeming to be more friendly with each other.

"We haven't had a student complete all 32 items yet, but there is a lot of enthusiasm," she said last week.

Ziegler said teachers are challenging students to make other students feel good, and showing how one person's decision to be kind can start the ball rolling.

"We want them to be the best person they can be," she said.