BAXTER-Unity, gratitude and random acts of kindness can be found in abundance at Baxter Elementary School this year.

With the Baxter Kindness Project, school staff members hope to teach their students the importance of being kind to one another.

Second-grade teacher Heather Bender helped start the effort.

"Last year I did a kindness project just in my own classroom because I just saw some things that our world is going through, and I know the kindness project is something nationwide that a lot of classrooms are doing," Bender explained.

She then spoke with another teacher on the school's continuing improvement team about making the effort even bigger.

"So then we presented it at our staff development meeting, and we were like, 'What if we put some money into doing this as a school-wide program?'" Bender said.

So that's what they did.

Students started working on the project about two weeks ago, when they came together to create a unity wall to celebrate the first trimester's kindness theme of "unity." Every student in the school drew a self-portrait and hung them all together in the hallway.

"We want everyone to see how different we are, yet we're all one," Principal Tammy Stellmach said of the unity wall. "We're all together. Everyone matters. Everyone should be respected. There are so many people in the building you can work to build relationships with. So the unity wall is there for us to see that we've got a lot of different individuals in our building. All those people we want to be kind to, all those people we want to be respectful to."

The whole school then gathered in the gymnasium Monday, Oct. 1, to hear Stellmach explain more about the project.

Students and staff members all received red and black unity bracelets with the word "kindness" and are encouraged to wear them as much as possible for the rest of the school year.

"The bracelet is your reminder that kindness matters," Stellmach told students.

All teachers received a copy of the book "Be Kind," by Pat Zietlow Miller, and will read it to their students throughout the week.

Other unity activities include wearing orange on Oct. 24 for anti-bullying day and decorating shoes to symbolize "stomping out bullying," and a November food drive organized by the student council.

"We want to show how Baxter Elementary School is willing to come together and unite to help our community," Stellmach said.

Each trimester will see a different kindness theme. After unity will come "random acts of kindness" and then "gratitude."

For random acts of kindness, students will make a list of nice things they can do for others, actions that don't cost a thing.

The gratitude theme will aim to help students feel thankful for what they have in their lives, like their friends, parents, teachers and school.

Third-grade teacher Kari Campion is eager to see how the Kindness Project folds out this year and hopes it will impact several areas of the students' lives.

"Maybe we need to be more intentional about having conversations about how to make and keep friends, build relationships, the importance of students feeling a sense of belonging at our school because we all know when they know they're cared about, when they belong, they learn more. They're happier about coming to school," Campion said. "We're just excited to do a school-wide initiative focusing on kindness and respect, to have everybody in the building speaking that same language and helping kids understand the importance of treating each other kindly."