An idea from a parent, inspired by an incident in Florida, has led to a wave of kindness at Big Walnut Elementary School.

Using money from donations and students' fundraising efforts, the Kids Inspiring Kindness initiative allows classrooms to apply for grants to perform acts of kindness in and around the community, said third-grade teacher Andrea Kavalieros, who developed the grant program.

"For example, in December, my classroom will be going to a food pantry in Columbus to volunteer. Another classroom is talking about going to a nursing home to lead a craft with residents," Kavalieros said. "Classrooms can choose to use the grant money to pay for busing to a location or to buy materials to complete an act of kindness from the classroom."

The inspiration for the program was a University of Tennessee decision in September to sell an officially licensed T-shirt designed by a bullied student in Florida.

The boy, who attended Altamonte Elementary School in Altamonte Springs, wanted to represent the UT Volunteers during a College Colors Day at the school. Lacking any official apparel, he drew "U.T." on a piece of paper and fastened it to an orange shirt, only to be ridiculed by classmates for his handiwork.

A CNN story published Sept. 9 tells how the boy's teacher posted a Facebook status, asking for help finding an official UT shirt for the boy. Circulated among Volunteers fans, the post caught the attention of the university, which reproduced the student's design as licensed apparel.

The university said a portion of proceeds would go to STOMP Out Bullying, a national antibullying program for children and teens that was created in 2005.

Tori Blazer, a mother of a Big Walnut Elementary School student as well as a PTO member, messaged Kavalieros about the story and asked if the school could do something similar, Kavalieros said.

"It started with a late-night thought that turned into something pretty amazing," Kavalieros said.

The result was Kids Inspiring Kindness, she said, and its first project was a contest to design a T-shirt to be sold as a fundraiser.

As the project was launched, she said, "It was neat to see the leaders emerge among (the students) and the teamwork. ... The contest really got them buzzing with excited smiles on their faces."

Her third-graders also have good things to say about the program.

Kids Inspiring Kindness "lets me and other kids show kindness in our community. This makes me feel truly great because kindness is something really special," said Ella Valenzuela.

"Kindness means helping and doing nice things," said Lucy LaBier. "I think people who go to the food pantry are amazing. Thank you so much to those who help out all around the world."

The program "helps me and other students feel excited about showing kindness. It also helps with showing kindness around our community," said Ally Schroeder.

Third-grader Avery Moravitz said she really loves to help people.

"Other people love when other people help them, but it isn't just them who feel good -- it's the people that are doing it for them. That is spreading kindness."

"I am excited about the food pantry because we get to help the people in need, and also this is our opportunity to show kindness," said Zoe Karshner.

Third-grader Carter Clark said he just likes helping people in need -- and also, "Kindness is just stuck inside me and it will never leave me," he said.

Kavalieros picked the top five shirt designs and students voted for their favorite. The winning design was revealed, she said, when the students arrived at the school and were met by Big Walnut mascot Harry the Eagle wearing the shirt.

The chosen design features a burst of confetti with the words, "Throw kindness like confetti!"

As of last week, about 250 shirts had been sold, she said.

Donations of about $1,100 have been received as well, and Walmart has pledged additional cash, she said.

The shirts can be purchased at tinyurl.com/bwkindness.

Teachers can integrate elements of Kids Inspiring Kindness into the curriculum, Kavalieros said.

"This is very easy, depending on what projects are chosen," she said.

For example, students might have to use math or prepare reports in connection with projects, she said.

"That part's easy, which makes it amazing. It takes their learning beyond the classroom," she said.

"More importantly, our focus is on the whole child," Kavalieros said. "We want them to be great readers, but at the end of the day, we want them to be kind, to work on common goals and to make the community a better place."

Blazer said she thinks the initiative is an "amazing opportunity to show kids that kindness is more than just a word -- it comes in many forms and impacts so much more than one person at a time.

"This initiative encourages them to take the time to make a difference, which is so important to instill in kids as families and life get busier and busier," Blazer said. "I couldn't love the possibilities of this initiative more and am so excited to see the impact these kids make on others and the community."

Big Walnut Elementary School parent Danielle Staderman said one of the most important characteristics parents and guardians owe to their youth is fostering the value of kindness without conditions.

"Kids Inspiring Kindness is allowing a pathway for our children to give kindness and allowing them to be part of something bigger than themselves," she said. "For this and so many reasons more, I am ever so thankful and grateful to witness what the amazing opportunities Kids Inspiring Kindness is bringing to Big Walnut Elementary and our community."

Cindy Barno, a teacher at Big Walnut Elementary School, said she's always looking for ways to inspire students to be kind to each other.

"The Kids Inspiring Kindness initiative really brings this to life," she said.

"I have already been working with students to brainstorm kindness ideas. The students are challenged to show empathy and try to step into someone else's shoes to determine how to best show kindness.

"Kids truly want to help others and show kindness," she said.

School principal Annie Clark said the campaign is another reason Big Walnut is a great place.

"As a district, we understand the importance of weaving empathy into the daily routines and building on the social emotional skills of our kids," she said. "The KIK program allows our students to take ownership in making a difference and giving back.

"Our hope is to build the capacity within our students to be kind in and out of the classroom," she said.

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