The students in Melissa Eggleston’s BIONIC mini-course at the Challenge School had only one assignment this fall, and it wasn’t what you might assume based on the name of the course. The 20 sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade students who signed up for the six-week course didn’t have to build a robot or design an electronic or mechanical device. Instead, they had to come up with ways to spread kindness throughout their school and community.
In this instance, BIONIC stands for “Believe It Or Not, I Care” and the whole point of the mini-course was to demonstrate that to others. The Challenge School offers teacher-created mini-courses to give students the opportunity to explore topics that interest them. Eggleston, a Challenge School math teacher, designed the BIONIC mini-course with middle school students in mind.
“Teaching middle school, you watch kids try and figure out who they are and struggle with social pressure,” Eggleston said. “I’ve watched how somebody in a bad mood can put somebody else in a bad mood, but kindness does the same thing in the same way. The best thing about kindness is it spreads.”
Eggleston kicked off the class with a kindness rocks project. Her students painted rocks and put positive messages on them, then placed them around the school for students and staff to find.
“The little kids really had fun with that and they really liked it,” said eighth-grader Kyle Rockwell, one of six boys in the BIONIC class. He’s fully embraced the concept behind the course.
“It’s always good to have compassion, no matter who you’re with,” Rockwell said. “You should try to spread joy and kindness.”
After completing the kindness rock project, Eggleston’s students had to come up with their own kindness projects. They worked in teams to research how a project would work, what supplies they might need and how to implement the project in a school setting. Then each team did a presentation and the students voted on the projects they wanted to do during the rest of the mini-course. One of the winners was a pen pal project.
“It’s based on the idea of pen pals over long distances writing to each other and how they form friendships and it makes a bond,” said eighth-grader Simone Beauchamp. She explained that students in first through fourth grade, who are based on the school’s first floor, were paired with fifth- through eighth-grade students, who take classes on the school’s second floor.
“We wanted to give people a new perspective, because when you’re downstairs it’s hard to imagine what it would be like to be in middle school, and when you’re in middle school, you don’t really remember what it was like to be an elementary school kid,” Beauchamp said.
Eggleston said the pen pal project helped foster new friendships across grade levels and generate school spirit. It also helped her students realize that they can be role models for younger students.
“I think my students realized how much the younger kids in the building look up to them and the impact that they have on the younger students in the building,” Eggleston said. “One day one of the little girls came running out of her classroom and gave one of my students a hug and said, ‘I love middle schoolers!’”
The pen pal project will continue even after the BIONIC mini-course ends, as will another project Eggleston’s students came up with: painting a kindness mural in one of the school’s hallways. Leaving a legacy of kindness was one of Eggleston’s goals for the course, as was helping her students recognize the power they have to make a positive difference in the world.
“I think so much about tapping into their academic potential, but tapping into their kindness potential was so powerful,” Eggleston said.
Student Simone Beauchamp agrees.
“Throughout this mini-course I have seen how impactful kindness really is,” she said.