Elementary students pass on the kindness

Kindness rained Tuesday morning at Top of the World Elementary School.

Students, teachers and administrators filled the Laguna Beach school's multipurpose room for an end-of-the-year celebration for Rachel's Challenge, a nonprofit that honors people who are kind and compassionate.

Students grooved to Ali Nourbakhsh's hip-hop beat and performed skits revealing kindness, such as a classmate picking up books for someone who fell on the ground.

"How hard is it to invite someone to lunch?" Principal Ron LaMotte asked the crowd, alluding to the ease it takes to be kind.

Nourbakhsh, a Rachel's Challenge representative, visited the school in September to kick off a year-long campaign and, working with teachers and staff, set a goal of 6,000 acts of kindness.

Top of the World exceeded the goal with 6,613 kind acts. They are recorded on pieces of colored paper that have been strung together into chains.

The chains decorated the ceiling inside the multipurpose room.

The beauty of the program is that students and teachers can give or receive a kind act, LaMotte said.

Teachers recognized one student per grade level for kindness and compassion: Lauren Gardilcic (first), Ethan Zipstein (second), Ryan Magers (third), Sophie Haslett (fourth), Claire Tigner (Community Learning Center) and Dylan Davis (fifth).

LaMotte also received recognition for his kindness.

Teachers honored LaMotte with a sequined red wreath made of paper links strung together. He placed the wreath atop his head to the crowd's approval.

Rosie Haynes noticed LaMotte's caring demeanor in 2000.

"You made me feel like a staff member even when I wasn't one," said Haynes, a student teacher at the time. "You made me feel important and introduced me to other teachers."

The school partnered with Rachel's Challenge three years ago, when LaMotte was tired of bullying in schools.

"If you're nice and kind to somebody, you can't be mean at the same time," LaMotte said.

Nourbakhsh was the ideal person to promote kindness on campus, LaMotte said.

"We hit it off," LaMotte said. "He is real flexible and keeps the program alive and fresh."

Music teacher Beth Sand taught students lyrics to Nourbakhsh's song "Light Up the Darkness," which he played for the audience.

Administrators opened the doors, allowing light to enter the room as a symbol of the song's meaning.

Nourbakhsh put up a picture of himself when he was a child and said: "He wasn't lucky to go to a school where everyone watched out for each other."

Rachel's Challenge was named for Rachel Scott, a 17-year-old student killed in the 1999 Columbine High School shooting who advocated kindness and compassion.

"I have this theory that if one person can go out of their way to show compassion, then it will start a chain reaction of the same," Rachel wrote before her death. "People will never know how far a little kindness can go."

Scott's father and step mother, Darrell and Sandy Scott, started the organization, which has impacted schools and communities.

In the last three years, Rachel's Challenge received nearly 500 unsolicited emails from students contemplating suicide who said that after hearing Rachel's story they reached out for help, according to the organization's website.

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