A student at Cedarcrest High School saw that someone ahead of him in the lunch line needed money for his lunch, so he pulled out his wallet to pay. Two other students, Cody Banks and Jake Jewell, saw a freshman boy sitting alone at lunch and sat down beside him. Chloe Cairns cleaned up the outdoor tables to save the custodians some trouble.
These are a few of the good deeds rewarded and promoted by the Random Acts of Kindness (RAK) club at Cedarcrest High School in Duvall, Washington. Health teacher Peggy Filer helped establish the club 15 years ago, nurturing a culture of kindness in the school and wider community.
“At our school everyone is really generally nice to everyone else,” Jewell said. “I think a lot of that has stemmed from RAK and the foundation Ms. Filer has set.” He said bullying is hardly an issue at the school, as far as he knows, and Cedarcrest generally has a better atmosphere than other high schools.
When people at Cedarcrest see someone doing something kind, they let Filer know, and Filer “busts” that person.
She tracks the students down amid their daily activities and takes a photo of them holding a sign that says, “Kind people rock,” which is then posted on the school’s RAK Web page. Banks, Jewell, and Cairns were all “busted.”
Sometimes the club also collects accounts of these acts and writes them on strips of paper. The strips are linked together in a “chain of kindness” that is displayed to remind everyone how important and appreciated kindness is at Cedarcrest and that it is easy to be kind.
Filer has been a teacher since 1985, and she has taught at Cedarcrest since 1993. Helping students cultivate kindness in their lives has been rewarding for her.
A former student emailed her recently saying, “I thought of you, I saw somebody do an act of kindness and I knew I just had to say ‘hello.'”
She gave an example of an RAK that stood out to her: “I was walking down the hallway, and this huge guy, Robbie—he had been a state wrestler—was in front of me and he didn’t know I was behind him. He said to this kid, he put his arm around him and said, ‘Dude, you look sad. Are you OK?'”
“The guy said, ‘No,’ and they started talking. I was just so impressed by that little act of kindness. … We have no idea what kids are going through at school. He stopped and asked. I loved that.”
She once heard of a student picking on a special-needs student during gym class. The quarterback of the football team walked up to them and said, “We don’t do that here.”
“It stopped them in their tracks,” Filer said. “It’s not cool anymore to be rude, to be mean.”
Nathan McBride, a junior at the school and an RAK officer, said high school years are often seen as the worst years. “I think highschoolers get a bad rap … [but] I think this club has made life better for kids at our school. … It’s not just the people at our school that benefit from it, but the people from our community.”
Cairns said one of her favorite club activities is the lunch outings to a local Mexican restaurant. The students pay for their own lunches, then they pick another table in the restaurant and pay the bill. “It’s one of the things that impacts our community, not just our school,” she said.
Sophie Hunter, president of the club, said that one time the diners whose bill they offered to pay turned the tables on the RAK club. They paid for the club’s lunch instead. Kindness inspires kindness.
The club’s vice president, Julia Knox, gave another example of how RAK reaches the greater Duvall community. Her favorite club activity is picking up garbage on Main Street.
“Really nice people show up for that one,” said Filer. Knox said, “It’s not ‘fun’ like eating out for lunch or going bowling with disabled children [another of the group’s regular activities].”
But Knox finds joy in this most menial task: she likes to wear the orange vest and to develop her skills with the garbage grabbing tool, honing in on cigarette butts, for example.
She was “busted” for kindness when she helped deliver some donations the school had gathered for people in need. As with many others who have been busted, Knox didn’t even realize she had been performing an act of kindness, it was just something she enjoyed doing.
Banks said that when he was called out of class to be busted, “I was surprised at first, I thought I did something wrong but I couldn’t think of anything.” He said it was natural for him to sit with the lonely freshman.
When Banks was a freshman himself, the RAK club helped him transition into high school. In addition to inviting freshmen to join RAK, the club has an annual “be kind to freshmen” day. Freshman are given red buttons that say “I am loved.”
“You don’t have to give a whole day to make somebody’s day,” McBride said. “You can just give them a smile or send a nice text to your grandma … it doesn’t have to be huge.”
“I like to just wake up happy, and be happy, and be nice to people,” said another club member, Alex Parnell. “No matter what differences we have, we all share a common good with each other.”
Nathan McBride (R) at Miracle League Baseball, a Random Acts of Kindness club event, with Jadon Fry (L). (Courtesy of Cedarcrest High School)
Cedarcrest’s RAK club was also featured on RandomActsofKindness.org