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West Jordan Journal

Traditional valentines exchanged for compliments

Feb 01, 2018 08:14AM ● By Jet Burnham

Students are excited to compliment each other each morning. (Jet Burnham/City Journals)

On Valentine’s Day, Foothills Elementary fifth-graders won’t be handing out store-bought Valentine cards and baggies of treats. They will be giving a sweeter gift to their classmates: a compliment.

For their alternative Valentine exchange, fifth-grade teachers (Sarah Johnson, Lyncece Rowntree, Amee Kovacs and Dawn Opie) asked their students to write nice things about each of their classmates. The compliments are then turned into a keepsake. 

“Every student gets a piece of art that says 25¬–26 kind things about them or to them,” said Opie.

The teachers emphasize the idea of feeling good about yourself and being kind to others. The idea was inspired by the book “Have you Filled a Bucket Today?” by Carol McCloud. The book teaches that everyone has an emotional bucket that needs to be filled with kind words and kind acts to help them feel whole and happy.

Students also listen to “Firework” by Katy Perry and “Who Says” by Selena Gomez during the week leading up to Feb. 14 as they think about what compliments they will write to each other. 

Once students receive all their compliments, they glue them onto a picture of a bucket to show how their emotional bucket has been filled by their peers.

“It’s fun to watch them read the sentence and place them in the buckets for all to read,” said Opie. “We just hope to spread real kindness.”

Opie said there used to be problems at the school on Valentines Day. Students went overboard with gifts as they tried to out-do each other, lavishing special gifts on select friends. One boy gave jewelry, flowers and money to the girl he liked. This left another girl in tears because she liked the boy, but he didn’t give her anything. 

“We decided it was time to teach these kiddos authentic kindness and forget about ‘love’ in fifth grade,” said Opie. “We all figure these kids have a long time to worry about relationships and hearts being broken. Being kind to everyone every day is a far better quality to have than worrying about boyfriends and girlfriends.”

The power of compliments is something Michelle Petrulsky uses in her classroom every day of the year. Her fifth-grade class at Hawthorne Academy in West Jordan begins each day with a class meeting where they take a few minutes to compliment every single student.

One student is in charge of conducting the meeting and asks, “Who wants to give [names a particular student] a compliment?” Most of the students raise their hands, and then the person singled out chooses one of students who rose his or her hand to give a compliment to him or her. Students praise each other’s choices, behaviors, personalities, skills, talents and physical traits. The recipient responds with a “thank you,” and then another child’s name is called, and another compliment is given until every student in the classroom has received one.

Petrulsky said this practice makes a tremendous difference in her classroom from the very beginning of the school year.

“Within the first two weeks, I have the most well-behaved students with really good attitudes who are very positive about learning,” she said. The class becomes a team that supports and encourages each other. 

Petrulsky has seen shy students who struggled to participate in the exercise gain courage. She said all students thrive in the accepting environment. 

“They’re not afraid to raise their hand or take a risk or ask a question,” she said. “Even children that have come from other schools, who maybe had difficulties before, just turn right around.”

 The support kids feel from their peers affects their learning. Petrulsky said her students know they are liked and aren’t going to be judged, and that makes a difference.

“Its’ amazing how feeling like you’re a part of something and everybody cares for you brings out that drive to do their best,” she said.

The compliments don’t stop once the morning meeting is over. Students support and cheer each other on throughout the day, from getting through challenging assignments to playing games at recess.