If you follow Helen M. Knight Elementary on Facebook (@hmkelementary), you’ll notice an influx of posts showing students doing “kindness challenges,” like writing thank you notes, introducing themselves to someone new or sharing messages of gratitude.
The kindness challenges and the gratitude messages are shared with the student body by “Gryffin Ambassadors,” a program that began this year to honor students who exemplify good character.
“We have so many wonderful kids at HMK, and we really wanted to maximize how we could celebrate them and honor all the good work that they do,” said Libby Bailey, assistant principal at the school.
HMK has always done a student of the month program; every month, each of the 35 classrooms in the school picks a student of the month. The ambassadors are picked as the “overall student of the month” in each grade level, Bailey said.
“By calling them ambassadors, we want to really support them to make connections with other students,” she said. “While that honor is really great in academics and general behavior in the classroom, we wanted to elevate it so they can make more leadership connections with other students.”
The ambassadors go on the intercom every morning for morning announcements and, this month, to share messages of gratitude. Ambassadors created a “gratitude tree” in the school for students to write on slips of paper what they’re grateful for.
In October, ambassadors shared kindness challenges in conjunction with National Bullying Prevention Month. The kindness challenges started as a way to combat some destructive viral TikTok challenges.
The student ambassadors also have formal responsibilities for welcoming new students and for reaching out to students who need help. When a new student joins the school, the ambassador in their grade level will show the new student around the school and help them feel comfortable.
The ambassadors also host activity-based social parties—September’s party focused on team-building activities—where the ambassadors invite other students who may need extra friends, or who have communicated to peers or teachers that they don’t feel good about themselves.
“And they get to eat donuts, which is always a good time,” Bailey said.
For the month of November, in addition to the gratitude tree, the ambassadors organized a painted-rock activity where they paint gratitude slogans onto rocks and hide them around the community for people to find. The rocks will be posted on social media with the hashtag #HMKrocks. The community is encouraged to participate in hiding painted rocks as well.
“We want to really make sure that the ambassadors realize that they’re not only leaders within the school, but they’re community leaders as well,” Bailey said.
The ambassador program has received overwhelming community and teacher support; in October, the Synergy Company donated over 50 pairs of shoes. Looking forward, Bailey said she wants to make district-wide connections by connecting the ambassadors to the student councils in Margaret L. Hopkin Middle School and Grand County High School, to show the elementary students that they can continue a trajectory of “leadership, kindness and social awareness,” she said.
Bailey tries to keep the elementary school’s Facebook page up to date because she loves connecting the students to the Grand County community.
“I think … the climate of the world right now can be a little bit overwhelming. But many of us—the staff that comes to HMK—we take solace in these amazing kids and the wonderful, positive things that they’re doing. And we get to see that every day, and it uplifts us, and we can get to know how happy and wonderful [the students] are,” Bailey said.