Nothing warms the heart more than seeing young people embrace compassion toward their world and all who share it with them.

view of Chinook Elementary entrance

Chinook Elementary School in Anchorage, Alaska

The 2021 Class Act awards allowed Random Acts to recognize outstanding acts of kindness by school groups. Prizes were awarded in the areas of advocacy, community, compassion, environment, self-care, and creativity. This year’s overall winner, the sixth graders of Chinook Elementary School in Anchorage, Alaska, demonstrated all of these qualities in amazing fashion. Over their Spring of Service in February, March, and April of 2021, Chinook Elementary’s “Mighty Salmon” dedicated themselves to performing an act of kindness for a different charity every week.

Sixth grade teacher April Halpern had been guiding her elementary classes through hands-on group service projects for years. But, she explains, during remote learning due to Covid-19, “it was not quite as easy to do those things.” April and her co-teacher David Hall knew their students would need to rebuild their social connections after nearly a year apart, and the Spring of Service was born.

April and David worked with their students to identify local organizations that could benefit from donations of different kinds, whether to cover basic needs or just to provide a word of encouragement. The list of organizations and the acts of kindness they received is truly impressive.

Regional Representative Misty Cash proclaimed that the Chinook Elementary Spring of Service demonstrated “all of our kindness colors. … We loved how it embraced community.”

A Calendar of Kindness

The projects that the Mighty Salmon completed were meant as a “gift to the city,” according to April. Anchorage is known as one of the most diverse cities in the United States, with a highly transient population. In addition, there are more than 90 languages spoken in the school district. School principal Twila Frye explains that due to these factors, a primary goal at Chinook Elementary is to make sure every student feels like they belong. “You have a purpose, to be here and be part of our school family,” Principal Frye tells them.

This sense of purpose among the students is one of the reasons why the Spring of Service was so successful. “There was a vibe of great excitement,” agreed April. “They wanted to be sure they were there to participate.”

Week 1: Brother Francis Homeless Shelter

For their first project, the students made fleece hats to benefit the Brother Francis Homeless Shelter. Loaded inside the hats were socks, a mask, hand sanitizer, lip balm, facial tissues, and a snack bar. The students topped off each hat with an inspirational quote.

Week 2: Hound Lounge

The second project involved toys and treats for a local dog rescue and adoption group, the Hound Lounge. The kids decorated bandannas and made toys of all shapes and sizes. The kids also folded origami dogs to make a fun poster. “Everybody loves dogs … especially when you’re in sixth grade … and when you’re an adult!” laughs April.

Week 3: Foster Children

The third project may have been the coziest. To benefit a local emergency foster care agency, the children made care packages that included a stuffed toy and a hand-knotted fleece blanket. As a tribute to the family feeling at Chinook Elementary, one student admitted that she had once been in foster care and would have loved to receive such a care package. Principal Frye explains that while students may not personally know the people they are helping, the students are learning that the recipients “are going to remember your kindness for a long time.”

Week 4: Salvation Army McKinnell House

The Salvation Army McKinnell House benefitted from Chinook Elementary’s fourth project. April shares that the McKinnell House is the only facility of its type in Alaska where families can stay together, especially fathers with their children. The Mighty Salmon put together bags with masks, a book, handmade bookmarks, and whirligig toys. The care packages also included nightlights to make the rooms in the shelter a little more like home.

Weeks 5 & 6: Fisher House

The next project, benefiting veterans, was big enough to take two weeks. Fisher House is a network of free housing for military families receiving care at base hospitals. The Chinook Elementary students created care packages of microwaveable heating pads made from rice in socks. Also included in the kits were facial tissues, hand sanitizer, masks, decorated plant pots with seed packets, picture frames, and candle holders with tea lights. The students also made a mixed media poster signed by the entire class. April shares that the impact upon both the students and the recipients was great. “It was a big thing: a young person had taken the time to do this kindness for someone they did not know … the students were in turn very touched and energized to do more.”

Week 7: Chinook Elementary Staff

For their sixth project, the Chinook Elementary students stayed close to home and distributed “notes of kindness” to the school’s administrative assistants, nurse, and principal. The kids also crafted tissue paper flower bouquets and created a poster made of tracings of their hands, accompanied by a quote from Harriet Tubman.

Week 8: Baby Salmon

The seventh and final project in the Mighty Salmon marathon of kindness welcomed the next generation of students to Chinook Elementary. Because their school expanded to include preschoolers this fall, the sixth graders created puzzles as gifts for their newest classmates. We can be sure that this new generation will be just as kind and compassionate as their older role models.

Impact for Years To Come

Chinook Elementary logo

The “Mighty Salmon” of Chinook Elementary School

The benefits of the Chinook Elementary Spring of Service go far beyond the school’s generous donations of time and supplies. Parents and teachers have all agreed that they are seeing changes in the lives of the children who participated.

“Kids are changing; they are becoming more appreciative; they are becoming more kind,” affirms Principal Frye. “When you have the opportunity to teach kids some kindness, do it — because it affects everything else.”

April is encouraged by the new avenues for service that the project opened up. “I never knew Fisher House existed. I did some things for veterans and made contacts that way. You never know who is going to walk in and what doors will open if you are aware that they are there.”
Moving forward, the school plans to continue supporting organizations from the Spring of Service while using the funds from the Class Act award to explore the new doors that the project opened.

Principal Frye sums up the Spring of Service perfectly: “We are sowing the seeds of kindness … one kid at a time.” The Random Acts team loves this!

Congratulations to Chinook Elementary, but more importantly, thank you, Principal Frye, April Halpern, David Hall, and all the Mighty Salmon! The world is a kinder place because you are in it, molding future generations in kindness.

Have a Class Act in Mind?

Take part in encouraging the students in your life to become a Class Act! Read about past winners on the Class Act blog. If you would like to set up a Kindness Club in your High School, please contact Misty Cash at misty.cash@randomacts.org.