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Hawley Kindness Assembly Ends With A Surprise



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Hawley Elementary School’s Kindness Assembly returned this year on January 13.

Ongoing renovations at Hawley School could not prevent the occasion. Hawley students divided into Sandy Hook Elementary School and Reed Intermediate School reunited in Reed’s Cafetorium with faculty and staff for this very special, Hawley-specific event.

During the years prior, it was COVID-19 that put the Hawley Kindness Assembly on pause.

“It’s the first kindness assembly since 2019, since our fourth graders were in first grade,” announced Patricia Vitarelli, Hawley language arts consultant.

The first event of its kind was held ten years prior, according to Vitarelli.

“It’s less about what it initially was intended to be,” Vitarelli said to The Newtown Bee.

Vitarelli said the Hawley Kindness Assembly “began as a mission of recovery” following 12/14 and has since “evolved” from this specific mission.

According to Vitarelli, every kindness assembly is connected to a book and related activities. Hawley students in all grades have a lesson including a chosen book that emphasizes kindness in some way, along with a theme that carries to the assembly.

This year’s chosen book was The Big Umbrella by Amy June Bates. Vitarelli reminded the audience of the book as exemplifying “friendship, inclusion, and shelter from the rain.”

In her work, Bates metaphorized that, “By the front door, there is an umbrella” a character takes with them before they leave the house. Despite some who “worry,” there is room for everyone to shelter under the “big, friendly umbrella.”

When Hawley students acted in the spirit of inclusion, their names were added beneath big umbrellas posted on bulletin boards at their host schools.

A group of kindergartners was invited to the front of the cafetorium, and asked to read the statement remembering their own act of kindness. Liam Fitzgerald read his to start off the chain, “I gave the ball to Lily and said, ‘Come play with me.’”

Afterward, a lyric video to “Here Comes the Sun” by The Beatles was played to the audience of students who read and sang along.

A pattern continued — representatives from each grade of students would remember a kind act they contributed to their school or home environment. Each grade had selected a song to share with the school, using a video with lyrics as the medium for a sing-along.

Second grade’s choice of “Save My Life” by Andy Grammar was popular with the whole school, as students sang along with happy and strong voices. “Have It All” by Jason Mraz, chosen by first grade, turned out to be another huge hit. It was sung enthusiastically and accurately memorized by even the youngest Hawley students, who sang the wordy lyrics with clarity.

“That song had syllables and many syllables! You did a great job!” Vitarelli said.

For their presentation, children in third and fourth grade answered why inclusion is important with prepared statements. Fourth grader Sophie Feinstein said, “If you are playing a game and someone is not included, you could miss out on their idea, and it could’ve been really good.”

After all chosen songs were sung and all statements were read, the assembly seemed at first to close.

However, the celebration was not yet over.

A Surprise

“There is a very special song here at Hawley School. It has become sort of an anthem,” Vitarelli said, introducing a surprise part two of the event to assembled students and staff.

The song was “Nothing More” by The Alternate Routes. Vitarelli explained that the band was at Hawley to perform that song in 2012, at the very first kindness assembly. She also explained, to everyone’s surprise and delight, they were back to perform this song for Hawley again.

Tim Warren and Eric Donnelly of The Alternate Routes then took to the front of the cafetorium with their guitars and words of gratitude, acknowledging the ten years since their last appearance at the assembly. They were met with a wave of excitement from the entire cafetorium.

The band encouraged students to sing along to “Nothing More.” Students and faculty alike knew the song by heart.

The assembly became a personal concert for Hawley faculty, staff, and students. Then, at the chorus, Warren stepped back from the mic to move around the room, and a valley of sound was created of only acoustic voices, steeping the cafetorium.

“We are how we treat each other and nothing more,” many voices refrained in synchronicity.

Student voices sounded alongside each other now in a glowing harmony. In front were very young sounds of kindergartners, and behind were the older, taller voices of seven, eight, and nine year old students.

When the veil was lifted, children were released to meet their “buddy classes” for movies and hot cocoa. Tearful faculty exchanged hugs before escorting students out of the cafetorium.

“Being here with these kids, it’s a different experience than what we went through,” Tim Warren stated for The Newtown Bee, in reference to the very first Kindness Assembly and its context. “It strikes me, singing this song, what’s important to carry away.”

“It was wonderful and I’m grateful to be here,” Donnelly said of his experience performing for the day’s event.

While exiting, students gave the band high fives, and many called out to the band to say how much they loved the performance.

The Hawley Kindness Assembly of 2023 concluded with a heartfelt and cyclical moment, and a sense of unity in a school separated by renovations.

Reporter Noelle Veillette can be reached at noelle@thebee.com.

Alternate Routes band members Eric Donnelly, left, and Tim Warren, right play their song “Nothing More,” long-recognized as an anthem for Hawley Elementary School on January 13.
Hawley Elementary School students and faculty react to surprise guest band Alternate Routes at the January 13 Hawley Kindness Assembly.
Hawley Elementary School first graders sing along to “Have It All” by Jason Mraz on January 13.
Hawley Elementary School Language Arts Consultant Patricia Vitarelli, left, interviews kindergartners standing with their teacher Donna Albano. Liam Fitzgerald, pictured reading, said his act of kindness into the microphone: “I gave the ball to Lily and said, ‘Come play with me.’”
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