In the 1944 film noir The Mask of Dimitrios, a character played by acclaimed thespian Sidney Greenstreet lamented, “How little kindness there is in the world today.” While that axiom may be somewhat true in modern times marked by a certain coarseness fueled by social media exchanges, the Kindness Club of Birch Lane Elementary School is doing their part to derail that notion in their small corner of the world. For the past three years, elementary school teacher Janeen Signorile has been the faculty advisor for students in third, fourth and fifth grade who have been participating in this group that finds small ways to help someone feel good or to find community projects the club can participate in. Signorile admits the idea of starting the Kindness Club is in keeping with the tone the upper leadership of the school has been dictating.
“I started the Kindness Club due to the outlook of the district, especially [assistant principal Joyce] Larkin and [principal Stephen] Aspetti. They were very proactive in promoting the idea of kindness, going so far as to highlight certain books with that theme,” Signorile explained. “I wanted to run a club—I was teaching second grade and went online and saw all the things out there in terms of what they’re doing in other schools across the country. It kind of came together like that. It was very much me flying by-the-seat of my pants. It came together in a nice way. That was a really big idea for that. When I brought the idea to the club, it was new to the children and they were very excited about it.”
Roughly 80 students are participating this year with each group getting an individual project to work on. Last year found members collecting roughly 1,000 pairs of socks for the Long Island Coalition for the Homeless. Around 20 students also visited Massapequa’s Parkview Care & Rehab Center to serenade residents and give them holiday cards. The good feelings created by these kinds of actions translate into a paying forward of loving sentiments. Signorile shared that parents have noticed a change in better behavior exhibited by their children. The school also recognizes children who do munificent acts via a Kindness Tree in the Birch Lane Elementary School lobby. Multi-colored leaves are taped on the tree that each contain the name of a student that’s done a kind act, along with what they did. These honorees also receive a certificate highlighting what they did and their names and acts are announced by Aspetti over the school loudspeaker at the beginning of each day.
“Kindness is the key to life. When principal Aspetti announces the names and the associated good deeds over the school loudspeaker at the beginning of each day and what they did, he ends it by saying, ‘The most special acts of kindness are one you do when no one is looking,’” she said. “The hope is that we try to make the world a better and more loving place and what you can do is important by paying it all forward.”