Wednesday, July 17, 2024

Mission possible: To be the kindest school in the country

Top secret: The Undercover Kindness Agency at Somerville Intermediate is on a mission.
It is an undercover agency, complete with passports, code names, phrases, agent levels and a secret mission. FARIDA MASTER stealthily enters the gates of Somerville Intermediate School one dark, winter morning to solve the mystery surrounding the surreptitious operation that the young agents are keeping under wraps.

It’s mission possible! The 165 agents at Somerville Intermediate exchange furtive glances and code breakers to work on a covert operation that not everyone at school is aware of.

Mission Impossible star Tom Cruise, agent Ethan Hunt would be proud of the rookie agents who are learning fast!

The Undercover Kindness Agency (UKA) is single-mindedly focused on targeting kindness.
They are on a mission possible to prove that kindness is cool!

The agents are taught how to identify someone who needs to be at the receiving end of kindness. The purpose of the mission is to encourage empathy with contagious acts of selflessness. Each week the UKA choose a secret mission to complete.

Principal of Somerville Intermediate, Yolande Franke says the idea was to build the right culture of self-worth and confidence amongst students.

“We want to be the kindest school in the country!” she says about empowering and enabling students to build a belief system with the right mindset.

“It was a deliberate decision to instil values of kindness and graciousness so that when a students is confronted by a raft of situations at any stage in life, they are equipped to make a choice on how best to respond in a given situation.”

The school has been developing the UKA program, and have made an intentional decision not to publicly acknowledge it. Anonymity is the key to the programme, which in turn adds an element of excitement as undercover agents communicate secretly with their peers and facilitators of the program.

“There is no overt recognition as it is not about rewards. It’s an underground operation with no glory attached to it. It’s simply based on the principle that making a difference for someone else through being kind is a reward in itself,” says Franke.

Leading the Undercover Kindness Agency is deputy principal Chris Hall who smiles saying, he couldn’t make it to the CIA, so he did the next best thing — start an undercover agency that encourages generosity of spirit.

He quotes Mark Twain saying, ‘Kindness is the language that the deaf can hear and the blind can see. It benefits both the giver and the receiver’.

“As a school we have a policy of zero tolerance to bullying and have strategies in place to prevent and respond to cases as they arise. This program has not been designed to combat bullying but to put a focus on developing positive relationships and interactions among students in a meaningful and purposeful way.

“We want our students to feel valued and reach out to support others.”

Sometimes it pushes the undercover agent a little out of their comfort zone to reach out to someone who may or may not necessarily reciprocate the kindness. Students are coached that the result may not always be the best, sometimes it can be disappointing, but the fact that they did their bit to make a difference is a victory in itself!

There are a range of missions that students are onto that shifts the focus from themselves to others in a world gripped by selfies and self-obsession fuelled by social media.

“If one of our agents finds someone who is sitting alone in school, they may approach them and introduce themselves, tell a joke to make someone laugh or ask them if they would like to play with them. They may hold the door for someone or compliment a teacher,” says Hall.

“Of course, we are not asking our kids to solve everyone’s problems. They need not spend their entire day helping or supporting someone else because we don’t want it to become overwhelming or onerous for our agents,” he says.

At the first UKA meeting students chose their agent name and the premise of the agency was discussed. After a series of online orientations, a detailed data base was developed which allows the UKA head office to secretly communicate with agents.

“While RAK (Random Acts of Kindness) are well documented online, the school saw UKA as a way of targeting students who would benefit from the subtle and non-threatening support of their peers,” says Hall.

The concept was introduced to the students during an assembly, and they were offered the opportunity to register their interest to be part of a group of people who would not be publicly recognised.

The intention was to invest in this group of agents and build them in a space of a collective that is bigger than themselves, says Hall.

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