Chatham Elementary School's 'Look For The Good' Project Highlights Gratitude

By: Tim Wood

Topics: Education , Chatham Elementary School

The “Look for the Good” project at Chatham Elementary School fits in with the school's SHARK behavior expectations, says Principal Robin Millen. COURTESY PHOTO

CHATHAM – Beginning Monday, Jan. 23, students at Chatham Elementary School will be looking for a little bit of good in everything.

The 10-day “Look for the Good” program aims to promote mindfulness and kindness and highlight gratitude among students and faculty through a variety of activities, including a “gratitude wall” where kids can post comments about the people, places and things in their lives that they're grateful for.

“It's a very simple 10-day campaign” with a big payoff, said Principal Robin Millen. “Its core belief is that gratitude changes mindsets.”

Begun in Old Lyme, Conn., the Look for the Good Project was founded by Anne Kubitsky, a biologist-turned-author/artist who started the program as a public art project It was inspired by a humpback whale that expressed gratitude to her rescuers after being cut free of 1,200 pounds of crab traps and rope off the California coast in 2005. Kubitsky launched a public art project inspired by the story and received some 22,000 postcards from around the world.

“The kids were the ones taking this and running with it,” she said in a telephone interview. That led to her non-profit organization developing the program for schools, which last year reached 86,000 kids.

The project is chiefly aimed at bullying, but rather than fight against it, it aims to prepare kids to prevent it through positive reinforcement.

“You can't force someone to be kind,” Kubitsky said. “[The program] helps give kids the opportunity to be mindful and shift their thinking if it might be negative, by focusing first on gratitude.” The program's website cited the benefits to health and emotions from gratitude, as well as improvements in the learning environment. The project says that grateful kids are 13 percent less likely to bully and 20 percent more likely to get good grades. During the 10-day program, 85 percent of students notice more kindness in their school and 78 percent report less bullying, according to the project. Last year, 8,600 students participated in the Look for Good Project, writing more than 175,000 messages of gratitude.

Chatham Elementary School's student council is taking the lead on the project, which dovetails with the school's “SHARK” behavior expectations – Safe, Honest, Accepting, Respectful, Kind and Successful. Council members will distribute “kindness cards” when they spot these behaviors, with the idea that students receiving cards will initial them and pass them on to others in gratitude for positive behaviors.

“It really is student-driven,” Millen said. Members of the council will provide daily “grateful” updates during morning announcements, and there will be “gratitude spots” around the school where students will be encouraged to stop and think about the people, places, talents and other things that make them grateful. Council members began talking about the project last week, watching the whale rescue video – which will also be shown to the entire student body Monday – and creating posters to hang in the school hallways urging students to avoid being “crabby,” a take on the origins of the project.

Students will be encouraged to think of something they are grateful for, write it down and post it on the “gratitude wall” posted in the main hallway. Millen hopes to extend the project into the wider community; in some towns, the gratitude wall has been given to a community group or posted in a public location to spread the concept. She is considering seeking permission to place the gratitude wall at the community center. Kubitsky said exposing students to the program is the best way to help it and its message spread.

“Kids naturally bring it to the community,” she said.

The project will culminate in students writing “You Matter” letters to someone who has made a difference in their life; the kids are charged with reading the letter to that person.

The project fits with the school improvement plan, Millen said, by helping to improve the social environment of the school and combating bullying.

“And it's mostly simple things,” she adds.

It took Kubitsky a few years to fine tune the program and figure out the mission of the nonprofit, as well as refine it into a form that was affordable; it costs $500 for the entire school to participate. Chatham Elementary School will be the first school on the Cape to participate in the program, and Kubitsky said she hopes schools can do the program annually to “infuse” gratitude into the school community.

“That's how you create sustainable change,” she said.