This article appeared in the October 28, 2022 edition of the Monitor Daily.

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How one school makes kindness a visible priority

Mary Knox Merrill/The Christian Science Monitor/File
The Christian Science Monitor's international editor, David Clark Scott, works at his desk in Boston, March 8, 2007. Dave worked at the Monitor for 42 years. His favorite stories were about kindness.
Yvonne Zipp
Features Editor

In his 42 years at The Christian Science Monitor, David Clark Scott traveled the world: He roamed throughout Latin America as the Mexico City bureau chief and reached into Southeast Asia as Australia bureau chief. He supported and counseled dozens of Monitor reporters as international editor. When he wrote columns, his favorite stories were of people taking the time to help one another. He even produced an entire podcast.

In these times, when everyone is fixated on what went wrong, it’s important to look for what is going right, and sometimes, frankly, it needs to be at the top of the page.

Dave passed on this week. On his last day of work, he pitched three stories, any one of which would have made a lovely column. But, he told me, he’d already “put a call in to the principal at the Nansemond Parkway Elementary School cuz, well, that’s the intro that tugs at my heart.”

It did mine, too, so I wanted to share it with you.

The Nansemond students in Suffolk, Virginia, have been learning a new language: sign language, so they can communicate with food nutrition service associate Leisa Duckwall, who is deaf.

It started with a fourth grade teacher, Kari Maskelony, who has deaf family members and started teaching her class. This month it spread when Principal Janet Wright-Davis decided the whole school would learn a new sign every week in honor of Disabilities Awareness Month.

“I don’t think [the students] saw it as a disability,” Dr. Wright-Davis told me over the phone. It was just a new way to communicate. Her biggest surprise? “How much they want to learn it.”

Their favorite sign: pizza.

The difference in the cafeteria is palpable, she says. Instead of pointing, as they used to, the students sign their requests. “She’s smiling and they’re smiling, and it’s just a different environment,” says Dr. Wright-Davis.

Ms. Duckwall has come to morning announcements to teach everyone new signs and has signed that day’s menu. Dr. Wright-Davis gets stopped in the hall by students signing good morning and wanting to show her what they’ve learned. Instead of stopping at the end of this month, the students are going to keep learning all year.

The school had its Trunk or Treat event Thursday evening, and the children were signing as they celebrated Halloween.

“One gentleman came out, and he was signing,” Dr. Wright-Davis says. It made her realize the lessons wouldn’t be confined to the lunchroom or even the school. “They’re going to encounter someone, even if it’s just to say good morning, or please, or thank you. ... Now they know a little bit more to show some gratitude.”

There’s plenty to learn from Nansemond: Show some gratitude, look for ways to make people feel welcome, and seek out kindness and celebrate it when you find it. Dave always did.

This article appeared in the October 28, 2022 edition of the Monitor Daily.

Read 10/28 edition
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