By Kim Walter
STRASBURG - Students and faculty at Strasburg High School and Sandy Hook Elementary School are teaming up to complete the 26 Acts of Kindness challenge.
Ken Knesh, the high school's principal, heard about the idea from a high school in Fairfax and he said he felt the reasoning behind it fit in perfectly with the town of Strasburg, and more specifically, the local schools.
The goal is to get each participant to complete one act of kindness each day for 26 days, including the weekends. The number 26 represents the 26 students and faculty members at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., who lost their lives in the December 14 shooting.
The impact of that day's events hit close to home, Knesh said, since the local elementary school shared the same name.
"I think here at the northern campus, we were ready to do something to honor those lives," he said.
The high school's Tolerance Club held an anti-bullying campaign just days before the 26 Acts of Kindness began on Friday, April 26. Knesh said the idea of spreading kindness and doing something special for peers and family members only added to the school's desire to stop bullying.
Knesh decided to hold an assembly to formally invite students to join in the "challenge." He ordered shirts for each person who decided to participate. On the back of the shirts, participants can list each of the 26 acts.
"I stood up in front of more than 650 students and told them that none of the children who died that day would be able to go to a high school assembly. They don't get to go to prom. So, what better way to honor their lives then spread positivity?" he said. "It was so silent in the room, you could hear a pin drop. But I asked if they were in, and they totally were."
Between the two schools, around 1,800 people will be conducting the acts of kindness. Knesh asked them not to repeat acts, and to try and make them something that they didn't do during their normal days.
"Of course some kids started by holding the door or something like that, but I've heard of some really cool things," he said. "Some kids are making dinner or mowing their neighbor's lawn, or even buying gift cards and leaving them in mailboxes."
Knesh said just recently a seventh grader was being bullied. He said the student often had a hard time fitting in. So, the principal offered to order a pizza if three of the high school's best known football players would deliver it and eat lunch with the student.
"They were more than happy, and I can't even tell you how happy it made that student," he said. "He was the center of attention, sitting there eating some pizza and talking about middle school stuff with these cool, big football players. It was awesome."
In May, at the end of the 26 days, all the participants are going to gather together for a group picture, which will be sent to Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown.
Rebecca Painter, a 17-year-old senior, is the president of the high school's Tolerance Club. She said the idea made her proud to be a part of the school.
"It goes right along with my club's goal, which is to make every student feel included, and to make this school a safe place," she said.
After the kick-off assembly, Painter said she overheard a number of students planning out their acts of kindness. She said she was surprised that some students, who normally wouldn't participate in school activities, were jumping to take on the challenge.
"I'm just so proud of how the students here are ready to be a part of this movement," she said. "Whatever gets the positive vibes going is what makes me happy."
Painter said she hopes that all the participants will join the Tolerance Club in marching in Strasburg's Mayfest, and help hand out T-shirts to community members so they, too, can think more about acting kindly.
Amy Zimmerman, a guidance counselor at the school, also said she hopes that local citizens will join. She and other teachers have been "scheming" to do nice things for other faculty members and students.
"Strasburg is beautiful, and the people here are very nice, but everyone young and old needs that little push to get them thinking about others," she said. "Unfortunately, I see the bullying every day. This is the perfect way to counteract that ... just spread the love. That's what it's all about."
Contact staff writer Kim Walter at 540-465-5137 ext. 191, or firstname.lastname@example.org