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Essex Tech teaches that kindness counts

Essex Tech students spelled out "Hawks Choose Kindness 2022" for a drone photo.Essex Tech

Every year, Michael Chase speaks to students at Essex Tech about his experience at the Boston Marathon finish line in 2013 when two bombs exploded, killing three people and wounding more than 260 others.

Chase was close to the second bomb that went off that day, and during the chaos, he was able to assist Jane Richard, a young girl who lost her leg in the explosion. Her brother Martin, then 8, was killed in the same bombing.

Chase, the school’s resource officer, said his experience that day and the unity he felt in the days and weeks afterward inspire him to teach kindness to his students.

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“It was just a sense of community and strength that came from strangers helping strangers and just the kindness that came out of the worst day, so I wanted to bring that spirit to the school,” said Chase.

Students and staff at Essex North Shore Agricultural and Technical School in Danvers held their fourth annual Kindness Week last month, promoting good will through service projects, celebrations, and challenges.

Kindness Week was created at Essex Tech in partnership with Chase, who came to the school in 2019.

During the week of April 11, students organized clothing and toy drives and participated in an initiative to read stories about kindness to elementary students over Zoom.

“The goal behind it is to teach our kids and remind our staff about just how easy it is to be kind to someone,” said Shannon Donnelly, principal of Essex Tech. “It’s a reminder that a little kindness goes a long way and it’s really easy to do.”

Essex Tech opened in 2014 with the merging of three other high schools: North Shore Tech, Essex Agricultural, and Peabody High School’s vocational programs. Since, it has been working to foster its own identity and culture, according to Donnelly.

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Every year since Kindness Week began, Chase has given a speech to students about how he found kindness during such a dark time. He hopes each year more kids will understand his message and want to get involved, and also embrace the spirit of One Boston Day, celebrated annually on April 15.

“I think that the more opportunities we provide for kids, the more kids and more interest we’re seeing,” said Chase. “The sky’s the limit as long as the kids are involved.”

He said that while the first year was more adult-driven, each year that the school has run the program he has seen more investment on the part of students.

One student who took the initiative to bring her own project to Kindness Week was Abby Ward, a sophomore from Rowley who conducted a toy drive for the children’s department at Newton-Wellesley Hospital.

She said she was inspired to begin the project last year during a speech given by Chase about his experience and motivation behind Kindness Week.

“For me, that was very moving and I felt the spirit to start something and to do something with that,” said Ward.

According to Ward, Kindness Week has transformed her experience at school and created a sense of community for her and her peers.

Superintendent-Director Heidi Riccio described the positive impact Kindness Week has had on Essex Tech, and said she hopes the work will permeate into the communities that send students to the school.

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“Watching the kids and the staff come together, it’s pretty cool to see the smiles on their faces and the excitement that goes around, and so I hope that continues and snowballs into the community,” said Riccio.


Grace Gilson can be reached at grace.gilson@globe.com.