The ‘river’ of kindness that flows through Yacolt Primary’s courtyard

A river of kindness flows through Yacolt Primary School, and it totally rocks! Quite literally, in fact. Step into the school’s newly revitalized courtyard, and you’ll immediately see a river of brightly painted rocks emblazoned with messages of kindness and positivity. Every student in the school painted one of their own unique “kindness rocks” for the project, which is just one piece of a school-wide kindness and positivity initiative recently launched at Yacolt Primary.

“As a school counselor, one of my biggest goals is to help create a culture of kindness,” said Nathan Simons, Yacolt’s school counselor. “Research shows that creating a positive school culture reduces bullying, aggression, and disruptive classroom behaviors, and we’re already seeing results.”

Since the kindness initiative was launched last month, Yacolt Primary has seen an average of two fewer behavior referrals per school day compared to last year. It’s a fantastic example of how individual schools support Battle Ground Public Schools’ focus on social-emotional learning, and a great example of how counselors support the initiative across the district. Battle Ground Public Schools hired counselors last year to help provide social-emotional support to its youngest students.

To help create and nurture a culture of kindness at Yacolt, Simons recruited a team of 33 fourth graders to be school leaders. Interested students applied for a leadership position by answering essay questions, and Principal Lynell Murray, Assistant Principal Kelly Gorby, and Simons selected the leadership team from the best essay responses.

Once selected, the fourth grade leaders didn’t waste any time in helping to get the Kindness Rocks project up and running. Sacrificing some of their own lunch time, the student leaders painted a base coat on all the rocks so that students’ custom messages would stand out. The leaders also created “100 Acts of Kindness” posters to hang in each classroom, and teachers are filling them with acts of kindness that students have done for others. The completed posters are hung in the hallways for all to see.

Yacolt Primary’s 4th grade student leaders

“We want our kids to not only think about how they can be kind to others, but also to recognize all the kind things that are done for them,” Simons said. “It doesn’t have to be anything significant; it can be as simple as a smile or a high five. It’s about making students aware of positivity around them instead of focusing on the negative.”

“Our school expectations are to be safe, respectful, and responsible,” said fourth grade leader Aiden Gunderson. “We’re working to add ‘be kind,’ and we want every student in the school to know these expectations by heart.”

“Being kind is helping others,” said student leader Krista Sarkinen. “Sometimes, that means standing up as bystanders to help others when they need it.”

“Being a student leader means being a good example for the younger students, and even our brothers and sisters,” said fourth grader Maddie Kaski.

Simons, who is in his first year as a school counselor, recently graduated with a Master’s in Education from Lewis and Clark. He was inspired to become a school counselor after a previous job working in schools where he helped students who had been diagnosed with mental health issues.

“Working closely with students facing mental health and behavioral challenges, I saw firsthand how school counselors can have a tremendous impact in helping individuals by implementing systemic, school-wide measures,” Simons said.

Simons said he’s trying to create a school culture by being the embodiment of kindness himself. “It’s my job to make sure every student knows that I’m here for them,” Simons said. “I do my best to make a connection with every student to let them know they they’re the most important part of my day, and that I’ll drop anything for them if they need help.”