For most of Dina Creiger’s adult life, her career was based in sales and business development. But it was just that — a career. Not a passion, not something that made her jump out of bed every morning, just a way to bring in a paycheck and support her family. The Needham resident, 52, dreamed about branching out on her own and pursuing something more fulfilling, but the timing never felt right.
Then came the Marathon bombings in 2013. The day marked a turning point in Creiger’s life, as it did for thousands across New England and beyond. It made her realize that the world needed a lot more kindness, and it needed it now. She decided that the next day she would start working on her very own social movement. She wasn’t sure what it would look like, but she had a name: “Choose To Be Nice.”
Now, more than four years later, “Choose To Be Nice” has become part of the curriculum at 30 elementary schools with plans for 15 more this fall. Teachers at participating schools break out the curriculum written by Creiger and her team and do monthly readings and activities designed to empower kids to treat each other better. Students make a “Choose To Be Nice promise” at the beginning of the school year, and it’s all capped off by “Choose To Be Nice Week,” five days at the end of the school year that allow students to celebrate what they’ve learned.
“We’re trying to remind everyone that they have a voice in this world,” said Creiger. “It’s all about getting kids to think about how much power they have to make a difference, whether it’s the tiniest of things or something bigger.”
The curriculum focuses on nine core values, one for each month of the school year. Each lesson has it’s own mascot — “the nine nice mice,” as Creiger calls them. There’s Hannah the Honesty Mouse, Ryan the Respectful Mouse, Pria the Patient Mouse, and so on. Once teachers do the suggested activities, there’s a lot of room for customization. “We really want the curriculum to be flexible, so teachers can fit it in as much as they want,” said Creiger.
The Manthala George Jr. Elementary School in Brockton came on board as a “Choose To Be Nice” school just this year, and students are currently in the midst of their first “Choose To Be Nice Week.” “We have absolutely seen a positive impact,” said Principal Natalie Pohl. “I don’t think there’s a more important message that we can give to our students.”
At Manthala George Jr., each grade picked themed projects to show how they choose to be nice. The second graders, for instance, are working on a book drive, where they collect donations, put special notes inside the books, then give them to local hospitals. Even the kindergartners are getting in on the act by writing thank you letters to community firefighters, according to Pohl.
“Choose To Be Nice” has come a long way from its early days, when Creiger had to start a Kickstarter campaign to even get funding for a set of T-shirts. But now it’s her full-time gig. She quit her corporate life a long time ago, and isn’t looking back.
“My big old crazy goal is that the world will be a better place for this. Hopefully, we do that by getting as many schools as possible in America and beyond to sign on,” she said. “You can’t underestimate the power of a warm smile. You can’t underestimate the power of making every interaction meaningful.”
Alex Frandsen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.