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Life and Arts

Good Works: La Cañada Elementary kick-starts 2020 with kindness

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La Cañada Elementary School sixth-graders hide rocks in the kindergarten play yard.
(Jill Simonian)

At La Cañada Elementary, goodwill toward others is continuing well past the holiday season with projects and clubs that put kindness first.

Thanks to sixth-grade teacher Lisa Fungo and her homeroom class, students of all ages are finding hand-painted rocks with positive messages cleverly hidden in trees, on the playground and tucked between the kindergarten play structure’s monkey bars.

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Positive rock-painting is underway outside Lisa Fungo’s sixth-grade homeroom.
(Jill Simonian)

The new activity, called “LCE 6th Rocks,” seeks to uplift students in a casual, fun way and launched in early January after Fungo showed her students a television news segment featuring a nationwide kindness initiative called Happiness Rocks.

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“I asked the kids if they’d be interested in doing something like this [at school], and they were … and it’s taken off,” Fungo said.

How does it work? Fungo personally purchases rocks, gives them to her students to paint with bright colors and inspiring messages once a week and then sends several students at a time to quietly hide the creations around campus for peers to discover during recess.

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Students hold #LCE6thRocks creations that are found around campus.
(Jill Simonian)

Fungo shares the fun via her Twitter and Instagram @lcefungo, using #LCE6thRocks for teachers and parents to follow and share with kids.

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“I’m not a big social media person, but I thought this would be a nice use of it; hopefully when people see it, it brightens their day a little bit,” she said.

“We want the whole school to share our happiness,” says sixth-grader Ronak (the teacher asks that we not publish students’ last names). While talking, Ronak proudly grasps a bright blue stone with “Just Smile” neatly spelled out in gold.

“Good,” “Accomplished” and “Happy,” are just a few words Fungo’s students use to describe how this unconventional assignment makes them feel. “Having a fun way to make people smile motivates you to keep doing nice things,” student Kayla tells me.

Fungo cites a larger lesson: “You might not be best buddies [with a classmate], but you can play a game or do something good for others together.”

One energetic kindergartner jumped into the action. After finding a sixth-grade rock in the play yard, he asked his teacher Wendy Damico if he could make a one of his own and participate too.

“It’s just the sweetest thing,” Damico beamed, recounting how effective the project is for turning tough days into good days for some of her young students.

Damico is no stranger to creating positive-conscious efforts at LCE. She and fellow kindergarten teacher Mandy Redfern lead an after-school community service club called Lions Really Care (LRC), which meets up to twice a month and is open to all students at the school.

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Members of Lions Really Care assemble sandwiches in the La Cañada Elementary School library.
(Jill Simonian)
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Last week, 16 LRC members — plus a few parents — met in the school’s library after school to assemble 36 sack lunches for Pasadena’s Union Station and to discuss the club’s January coin collection and upcoming bake sales to help animals affected by Australia’s recent wildfires. (The club has raised nearly $600 and counting in just a few weeks to be donated to the Worldwide Wildlife Foundation.)

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LRC members (Katelyn, fifth grade and second-grader Morgan) showcase artwork made for a local friend in need.
(Jill Simonian)

Members also drew pictures with inspiring notes to gift to an ailing friend of principal Emily Blaney. In a single one-hour meeting, LRC volunteered assistance to international, community and individual causes. The club’s future goals include making Valentine grams for a local senior center and donating goods to Pasadena Humane Society.

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Members of Lions Really Care assemble sandwiches in the La Cañada Elementary School library.
(Jill Simonian)

Redfern and Damico have noticed differences on campus with students participating in kindness initiatives at LCE. “We see it [respect] on the recess yard, in interactions with teachers and staff and with their peers,” Redfern says.

Positive schooling for all of us, kids and grownups alike.

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