Kindness movement sweeps McKinley school
FAIRFIELD — In a dusty wing on McKinley Elementary School’s second floor where damaged furniture was once stashed, a group of parents and staff saw potential.
If the furniture were cleared out, and if the adjoining balcony were weeded and swept, the well-lit alcove of the school could be reborn and re-purposed — or at least that was the goal of McKinley’s Kindness Committee.
“Jennifer Barahona and I decided we wanted to do something to aid the social-emotional learning of kids. It’s been shown that cultivating kindness helps with that,” said Anna Wood, McKinley Parent Teacher Association president and co-founder, with Barahona, of the Kindness Committee that has overseen several events at the school over the past year, including the redecorating of the once-abandoned wing.
In 2017, Wood, Barahona and a group of teachers and administrators collaborated to start a movement, the goal of which was to embed the idea of kindness.
They held a Kindness Night for parents and students, hosted a showing of the movie “Wonder,” about a boy with facial disfiguration, and expanded their annual Week of Kindness to a month-long celebration. Most recently, they created the “Kindness Corner” in the unused second-floor alcove and, on May 18, unveiled a Kindness Mural at the school’s annual art show.
The mural includes 540 tiles — one for each member of the McKinley community, including students, teachers, administrators and parents, who helped to decorate — to create an 8-by-12-foot permanent art piece depicting two hands touching.
“I think we forget that kids need to be taught about kindness. Now we have a reminder here on the wall,” said Renee Grenier, a McKinley fifth-grade teacher and the PTA teacher representative for the past six years. “Kindness is kind of the old new. It’s always been there, but life has changed for kids with social media. We want to remind them of the humanity piece. We are all people; we have to treat others how we want to be treated.”
In addition to the mural, the space will be totally refurnished with couches and bean bag chairs, an area rug and outdoor space with a picnic table. Books will be placed and inspirational quotes will adorn the walls. Next to the mural, where mounted pieces of paper bearing the names of all those involved are hung, commemorative plaques will be fastened to the wall.
“We wanted it to be a place for children to reflect,” said Amy Gorruso, an art teacher at McKinley, who was tasked with finding the materials required, as well as overseeing the design and construction of the mural.
“I went to tiling stores to see if they could donate. I went to Lima Tile & Marble in Bridgeport. I had a whole 10-minute spiel prepared. They stopped me two minutes in and said ‘anything for the children,’ ” Gorruso said. New England Tile of Fairfield also donated mastic, grout and spackle and McKinley custodian Diego Arredondo donated more than 12 hours of his time helping Gorruso put the piece together.
Much of the furniture for the Kindness Corner has not yet arrived, but Gorruso said she expects it before the end of the year. The mural and the Kindness Corner are not temporary installations. The Kindness Committee and McKinley faculty intend the wing to become part of the educational experience for generations of students.
“It started out as a concept and then it really blossomed and became woven into the fabric of our school. The culmination is the mural,” Wood said.