'Look for the Good' founder visits Sunnyside

If you were put on the spot, could you share something that makes you feel grateful?

It’s a challenge given to Shelton’s Sunnyside Elementary School students on a regular basis and part of a larger movement sweeping the country.

The Look for the Good Project, a two-week K-6 school program encouraging kindness and gratitude, has reached some 120,000 students, and counting. On Friday, Look for the Good Founder Anne Kubitsky, a Connecticut native, came to Sunnyside to give special thanks to staff, parents and students for being early and successful adopters of the program.

“Sunnyside is really the example,” Kubitsky told The Herald. “So much of what they’ve done here, we’ve used for our programs throughout the country.”

Look for the Good officially launched three years ago with just 18 schools — including Sunnyside— participating. This year, Kubitsky, who is the sole employee of the nonprofit, has had to cap the program to 150 schools, with a goal of expanding in the future  to meet growing demand. The program has been endorsed by the CT Commissioner of Education.

The K-6 program includes creating “gratitude spots” throughout the school. When a child is on the spot, they have to share something that makes them feel grateful. Each student writes a letter of gratitude to someone in their lives, fills out Post-It notes with short messages for the school’s “Wall of Gratitude” and students hand-out “Kindness Cards,” encouraging acts of kindness toward fellow students and staff. Kubitsky finds that students take ownership of the program and the work they are doing inspires parents and adults in the community to also “Look for the Good.”

“I believe so much in the power of gratitude and that kids need this one, simple tool,” Kubitsky said. “Studies show if they learn something like this in early education it will come back to them in times of stress.

Overall, Kubitsky said, the goal is to “reducing bullying, increasing kindness.”

At Sunnyside last Friday, the school’s Student Team of Role Models, or S.T.O.R.M., donned crab hats, as a metaphor for students getting tangled up in “crabby thoughts.” It leads to a discussion on how students can change that mindset when they’re in it.

Sunnyside Principal Amy Yost said the program has had a noticeable impact on students in the last three years.

“The philosophy behind the LFTG Project has become part of our culture at Sunnyside,” Yost said. “We have seen first-hand the positive impact on student achievement increasing and student discipline decreasing. “

Look for the Good

The inspiration for Kubitsky’s gratitude project started in 2005, when she heard about a group of divers who freed an entangled humpback whale. The whale, before swimming away, nuzzled each of her rescuers, in a show of gratitude. The story would become the inspiration for Kubitsky writing “What Makes you Grateful?” on 500 self-addressed postcards. She left those postcards in library books, coffee shops and bicycle baskets. In the next four years, she heard from 22,000 people, all sharing messages of gratitude.

“It wasn’t just a public art project,” she said. “It changed my life and I realized the whale was an allegory for my baggage that I was still tangled up in from the past.”

Kubitsky said the work finally allowed her to process a sexual assault she experienced as a teen and inspired Look for the Good, which works toward ending the bullying culture and rape culture, by helping young children focus on positivity and kindness. Kubitsky said diviseness is at an all-time high, prompting her to spread the Look for the Good  message of “Let’s Make America Kind: One School at a Time.”

“A lot of parents ends up reading these letters their children write and it impacts their lives,” Kubitsky said. “It’s a wonderful way to bring the community together in a time of divisiveness.”

Raise Craze

The lessons learned in Look for the Good also integrate nicely with the annual Raise Craze, organized by the Sunnyside PTO.

Raise Craze is an online-based program in which students create profiles and then reach out to their families and friends to collect donations for acts of kindness. Those acts of kindness include letters to police officers, collections for the children’s hospital and neighborhood clean-ups. Raise Craze has raised thousands of dollars toward a new playground, but there is still have a ways to go, according to parents. Sunnyside’s Raise Craze will return later this school year.

In the meantime, Kubitsky is eager to grow Look for the Good, bringing it to more schools.

She’s started a fundraising effort at GoFundme.com/MakeAmericaKind.

So far, the nonprofit’s program has mainly spread through word of mouth, thanks to schools like Sunnyside.

“Sunnyside is an amazing place,” Kubitsky said. “I am so grateful to this entire community for being such a good example.”

To learn more, visit LookforTheGoodProject.org.