Allderdice student builds ‘Keeping Up With Kindness’ program at Colfax Elementary
At the close of her one-hour program, Lauren Haffner asked Mrs. Grujich’s second-grade class at Colfax Elementary in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh, “Are you going to stand up to bullies?”
Nineteen students – in unison – responded enthusiastically, “Yes!”
That was the answer Haffner, a 17-year-old senior at Allderdice High School, was looking for. She had just spent four weeks with the 7- and 8-year-olds – in the class she attended at their age – reading and talking and doing activities to encourage the children to be kind to each other. She calls the program “Keeping Up With Kindness.”
“They’re the next generation and what they’re thinking is key,” said Haffner, who created the program as a project for the Centers for Advanced Study, which offers accelerated courses for gifted and talented high school students. “It’s key to making change and it’s key to making good things happen.”
The genesis for the teen’s kindness program was born in grief.
After the Oct. 27 mass shooting at Squirrel Hill’s Tree of Life synagogue, where she once attended Hebrew classes, Haffner said she had to do something to help her community heal. She also had a final school project and senior year looming. So, after meeting with city officials and trusted mentors, an idea began to form. It would take her into the classroom, and steer her away from the written reports on Crohn’s disease and Andy Warhol that she had done.
Randi Grujich, Haffner’s second-grade teacher at Colfax, wasn’t surprised. Grujich called the teen “my kind child” when Haffner was a second-grader.
On Wednesday, Grujich’s students gathered on her colored rug to share the things they had written about each other on scraps of construction paper for an exercise called “Fill the Bucket,” after the book by Carol McCloud the class had read together. The idea is that the things said and done to each other can either fill or dip into another’s bucket.
Haffner called the exercise “a magical experience.”
“When it’s kids wanting to take an initiative in their neighborhood, it’s really important that we support that,” said Pittsburgh Councilman Corey O’Connor, Haffner’s city representative.
Colfax Principal Tamara Sanders-Woods welcomes Haffner’s approach.
“At Colfax, we believe that kids are relational learners,” Sanders-Woods said. “They learn from who they like.” And students like Haffner are a critical asset because of the coolness factor on impressionable kids. “It definitely matters because they can reach them sometimes when we can’t.”