Photo: Alki Middle School seventh- and eighth-grade leadership students create stockings during zero period for 17 VPS families  the school adopted as part of its Sharing and Caring project.

Of all the lessons we teach our students, compassion may be one of the most difficult. How do you teach a child to care about another person? How do you know when the lesson has been learned?

Our safe and supportive schools initiative, which recently was awarded a nearly $3 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education, is one way. Schools that have implemented Response to Intervention and Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports are displaying cultural changes. Students are learning how to be responsible and how to respect one another, which is perhaps the first step toward compassion.

Our students also see compassion modeled in our Family-Community Resource Centers, which recently received a District of Distinction award from District Administration magazine. Every day our FCRCs come to the aid of families who need food, clothing and other basic items. They provide assistance navigating the complex web of resources available for housing, medical care and other services. Recently they facilitated an informational meeting for a large number of families that may soon be displaced from their homes.

Lessons about compassion may be most poignant during the holidays, when many VPS schools are involved, in one way or another, in efforts to give back. Some of the most vulnerable students and their families receive gifts and assistance from our many community partners. For example, 30 families will receive food boxes and gifts this holiday season courtesy of the Hazel Dell Lions Club.

Photo: Alki students select tags bearing the names of items requested by the families. Many students did extra household chores to be able to donate the items. Many schools also hold food and clothing drives to assist their friends, neighbors and classmates. Just one instance of this can be found at Alki Middle School, where the annual Sharing and Caring project is a community-wide study in compassion, involving staff, students and the PTSA. The school has adopted 17 families from around our district. The families will receive clothes, gift cards, shoes, toys, stockings, cards and other donated gifts.

“When they first mentioned the Sharing and Caring program, I decided right then and there I’m going to do jobs for people to go and get money to do it.”

That’s sixth-grader Tess Raz, who, like many other students, was eager to participate, realizing the importance of the smallest item. Said Alki sixth-grader Lillian Anderson:

“We have all these necessities, and we take them for granted, but a lot of people don’t.”

And even though they may never even know the names of the families, much less meet them, there’s still something to be gained from the act of putting time and effort into recognizing another’s needs and working to meet them. Said longtime VPS educator Linda Meade:

“It’s just a great way to help other people in our community, and it’s probably just as important as any subject matter they’re studying, to learn to reach out to others.”

No matter where we work or go to school, we all take time to share and care and practice compassion. And that’s what makes our district so strong.

I hope that your holidays are full of compassion, relaxation, reflection and time with family and friends.

See you in 2015!

Take care,


Image: Steve signature