CONTACT: Matt Sheley at (401) 712-2221 or
MIDDLETOWN, R.I. (OCTOBER 29, 2020) – Four years ago, Shannon Dugan remembers her
second-grade class just not gelling.
For whatever reason, her group at Aquidneck Elementary School was bickering and not
getting along, far from the close-knit classes she’d led in the past.
Instead of sitting back and accepting that’s how the school year was going to go, Dugan
shifted gears and started teaching content she’d never specifically featured in lesson plans
before – about kindness.
Today, the concept is at the heart of everything Dugan does in her classroom and making a
huge impact across the Aquidneck Avenue school – and beyond.
“I don’t know where the idea came from, but it just made sense,” said Dugan, the “2019
Teacher of the Year” for Middletown. “Ever since, I’ve used it and the kids absolutely love it.
It really contributes to their learning and development over the year.”
Teachers say each class and grade level has its own unique characteristics. Some are
easygoing and willing to work well past the bell, while others would rather romp on the
playground any chance they get.
Still, Dugan said she hasn’t discovered a group where the kindness campaign doesn’t take
hold and grow organically among students.
As a teacher of an inclusionary class with a number of students who need extra help, Dugan
said it’s important to find unique ways to connect with everyone in her classroom.
One of the main themes of the kindness campaign is subtly demonstrating how students
should treat one another, Dugan said. This is done through a variety of approaches. For
example, during an in-class discussion, students might be asked what they thought of a
character’s behavior in a book or video. That usually sparks a pretty enlightened discussion
among the students.
And despite what some might think, Dugan said the lessons aren’t just rainbows and
lollipops. She said students tackle racism and other pretty weighty subjects related to
kindness in a grade appropriate manner.
“Honestly, sometimes I’m amazed at what they pick up and how they interpret it,” Dugan
said. “They may ‘only’ be in second grade, but they’re very cognizant of what’s happening
around them.”
Asked what they believed “kindness” was, every student in Dugan’s class had a good
answer – and no two were exactly the same.
“Using good manners and being delightful,” second grader Charlie Hanos said.
“Help someone when they fall down,” added classmate Jaxsin Silvia.
“Being a good listener,” Aaron Ramirez Pataca said.
“When you see someone is being bullied, you stand up for them,” Violet McDermott said.
“If you see someone lonely, go sit with them,” Ben Hyde said.
The class also tries to spread kindness outside their classroom too. As part of the effort,
each student picks someone in the building who deserves to be recognized and draws them
a picture to mark their achievement. Dugan said it’s not uncommon to see those pictures
proudly displayed in classrooms and spaces across the building.
Dugan’s students can also be acknowledged for helping their peers or others when they
think no one else is looking through the “It’s Cool To Be Kind” campaign. Students earn a
yellow medal on a blue lanyard they get to wear for the day, a distinct honor in Dugan’s
Aquidneck School Principal Erica Bulk said she couldn’t help but be impressed.
“Teaching kindness is important because it helps educate the whole child,” Bulk said.
“Social and emotional health is just as important as academics and students learn about
kindness not just by reading or talking about it, but having firsthand experiences with
kindness and what a random act of kindness can do for another person.”
Bulk said Dugan’s kindness campaign has made a difference across the school, not just in
her classroom.
“It really gives students a sense of belonging and pride about our school,” Bulk said.
“Kindness is also contagious and spreads throughout the school and builds student selfconfidence.”