After the Newtown tragedy last December, an outpouring of gifts from around the world inspired Sandy Hook Elementary School first grade teacher Kaitlin Roig. She created a new social curriculum that teaches students about compassion, kindness, and caring for others—an antidote of sorts for the hatred and pain inflicted upon their school children, their families, and their community.
“As a teacher, I wanted to take a step back and teach them that when you have a lot, you have to give a lot,” Roig says. “If we didn’t turn around and do something nice for someone else, we were missing the mark.”
Thus began Classes 4 Classes (www.classes4classes.org), a nonprofit organization that allows K5 classes to sponsor projects up to $1,500 for other K5 classes, who then “pay it 4ward” by choosing a class to sponsor themselves. Launched in early April, there are now 14 classes supporting 14 others in Alabama, Arizona, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, Tennessee, and Virginia. The project is funded by outside donors, including individuals and corporations.
The “caring classes” have supported projects including iPads, smartboards, books for classroom libraries, textbooks, and whiteboards for the “receiving classes.”
Classes find one another solely through teacher networking, with teachers reaching out to others they know from college, work, or social circles, allowing both themselves and students to seek out others in need and forge new connections. Classes can only sign up to be givers, not receivers; teachers and students from the giving class choose their own receiving class. The receiving class may be one that a teacher personally knows needs help, or one that students hear about in the news.
On the program’s website, teachers, students, and community members can see the “caring class” and the “receiving class” school, grade, and teacher’s name, with the amount raised so far, the goal, a message from the giving teacher, and a place to donate to each project.
As far as the curriculum goes, Roig says that teachers’ social curriculum methods are often not hands-on. For example, previously, her students might have read a book, discussed how the characters were empathetic, and completed a worksheet. “Classes 4 Classes provides a platform for students to be actively engaged in learning the social curriculum,” she says.
Roig suggests classrooms implement a “caught being kind” jar filled with notes from teachers who have seen student kindness in action, student journals detailing acts of kindness they perform or see from others, and projects such as writing letters to veterans, all of which can be posted online to their project page to share with other classes.
What distinguishes Classes 4 Classes from other programs is that the students are in control, she says, as they get to brainstorm and decide what to give to another class. “As a teacher, so many things I see involve the teacher at the forefront, and this is really the students. We’re giving kids the control back, asking, ‘What do we want to give to someone else? Why? How will they use it? What is our hope for them?’” she says. “Schools can go on without a penny and say, ‘I want to give to someone else.’ Giving that experience to anyone is really incredible.”
Classes 4 Classes will launch nationwide in September, and Roig has already received requests from districts in Australia and England to expand internationally, and through high school. At the time of this writing, three of the 14 classes were fully funded, and the rest are on their way through donations on the website. “This has been my sense of solace and healing, what I’ve thrown myself into,” Roig says. “When we teach children to be caring, compassionate, loving beings, there’s no room for hate.”