Editor’s note: This article is part of a series that highlights the Pay It Forward movement with stories of ordinary people benefiting from acts of kindness and how they choose to pay that kindness forward.
BANGOR, Maine — The William H. Cohen School in Bangor has spent the last two years integrating the concept of Pay It Forward into the curriculum so that its essence permeates the corridors of school life for both students and teachers.
School guidance counselor Pam Astbury said she talks about Pay It Forward in her educational and career planning classes for seventh- and eighth-grade students. She discusses the idea of volunteering and suggests that at the end of the year, students write thank you notes to faculty and staff who have made a difference in their lives.
“In many ways, the Pay It Forward concept is woven into the school environment,” she said.
Astbury, who has 33 years of experience in education, 20 as a teacher, was one of the staff who received a thank-you note from a student. Astbury gave the child support as she struggled with bouts of depression and needed help to discuss with her parents what was going on. Astbury was one of many at the school to receive notes.
“Educators are by nature very giving. Pay It Forward makes me mindful of the little things I can do for someone else with the hope the recipient will pass that kindness on,” she said.
Sixth-graders at the Cohen School learn to build community in their classrooms, receive and pass on kindness and respect cards, and have class meetings to highlight and celebrate acts of kindness.
Pay It Forward emphasizes giving of one’s self without expecting something in return. That attitude, Astbury said, “connects with everything children need to move forward into life.”
Introducing Pay It Forward comes with a small amount of seed money with which the school may fund specific needs, such as seeing that a disadvantaged student has athletic equipment and clothing, or assisting with dental, eyeglass and medical needs, but for the Cohen School, it’s the bigger picture of doing what you can do for others on a daily basis, no matter how small, that matters.
Apparently it’s working:
• Fifty sixth-graders stepped forward to volunteer to read to students and help with art projects with special needs children at the school. Those volunteers were honored at an end-of-school-year celebration on June 13.
• Other students volunteered to serve as “buddies” to new students for a few days to ease entry into life at the school.
• The school student council organized the renovation of the school courtyard, including plantings, a picnic table and stone work.
• The school’s service learning group, Voices of Change, sponsored a supper and ceremony to honor veterans, and an informational forum on autism.
Astbury pointed out that Cohen School students have good role models for doing community service projects and paying it forward. For example, Bangor High School National Honor Society students volunteer their services as tutors, donating many hours of time in the course of the school year. And the Boosters Club at the school raised funds to provide snacks at test-taking time, a wireless microphone system for school productions and an eighth-grade send-off party, and for many other projects.
“It’s a great concept,” said Doug Ferguson, school assistant principal. “The courtyard project was a good effort by a lot of people.”
Pay It Forward, Astbury said, “is such a legacy for our society. It’s very meaningful and very powerful.”
Ferguson said the school Boosters invite parents of Cohen School students to participate in the group’s activities. Information and a meeting schedule is available at bangorschools.net.