Sandy Hook Elementary School teacher Kaitlin Roig-DeBellis ’05 (ED), ’06 MA always felt that teaching kindness was a critical lesson for her young students – perhaps no more so than in the wake of the tragic shooting in Newtown, Conn., that took the lives of six of her colleagues and 20 Sandy Hook students last December.
As countless gifts and messages of compassion poured into the school and uplifted her first-graders in the months that followed, the UConn alum sought a way to teach her students how to pay that kindness forward. “Eventually I just realized that when you get, you have to give,” Roig-DeBellis says.
Launching a nonprofit called Classes 4 Classes earlier this year, Roig-DeBellis has made the act of giving an engaging, tangible experience in her own classroom, as well as in many other classrooms nationwide. The organization, whose mission is to teach every child in America to have an interest in the well-being of others, invites K-5 teachers and their students to become sponsors for other K-5 classrooms elsewhere in the country – for instance, by helping to raise funds for the purchase of much-needed school supplies, a field trip, or a guest speaker for a classroom in need.
“It’s so important, especially for younger students, to have a genuine experience in learning to be caring, kind, compassionate, empathetic,” Roig-DeBellis says. “As teachers, we’re so busy with curriculum and all the major subject areas – which are so important – but there is still such a gap in how kids treat one another.”
Classes 4 Classes begins to address that gap, offering students the opportunity to experience firsthand the joy of giving, while involving the larger community.
“A lot of people say, ‘I’m not a teacher or parent,’ or ‘I have no involvement with schools,’” says Roig-DeBellis. “But this program is also about the people who are helping to make it happen – whether it’s monetarily or by spreading the word. Every person can be a part of it.”