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For Tucson Schools, Kindness Becomes a Work of Art

In her first year as principal at Grijalva Elementary School in Tucson, Arizona, Megan Chavez let compassion lead the way, challenging her students to complete acts of kindness as part of her school’s new focus on social emotional learning.

A majority of students live in poverty, according to state educational data, and Megan knows a majority of children in the school also endure trauma.

“They are coming to school with a lot of experiences that they've had that can impede their ability to learn. We have many students that are living with someone other than their biological parents, so there haven't been as many deep relationships that our students need to know what kindness looks like and sounds like,” Megan said.

That’s when Megan learned that others shared the same vision of creating a culture of empathy for the children who need it most. UnitedHealthcare teamed up with Ben’s Bells, a Tucson nonprofit organization, to donate $10,000 to fund the installation of two large kindness murals at Grijalva Elementary and Ochoa Elementary Schools in the Tucson Unified School District.

Volunteers with UnitedHealthcare and Optum recently worked with Ben’s Bells muralists to install the mosaic murals with a sea of reflective tile and glass, shaped into the words “Be Kind” at Grijalva and a kindness tree at Ochoa. The project works to highlight the important connection between kindness and childhood adversity.  

“Our kids face many, many challenges these days growing up, both at home and in the school and these can lead to what we call adverse childhood experiences, which impact a child's health outcome over the course of their life,” said Joe Gaudio, CEO of UnitedHealthcare Community Plan of Arizona. “A simple act of kindness, especially coming from another child, can help change that course.”

Ben’s Bells operates with a mission to inspire kindness through art, after its founder discovered comfort and healing through a community’s creation of clay bells following the death of her young son. These public art pieces can help symbolize community connection and support.   

“When people ask me what I do in relation to the murals, I tell them I put magic talismans of kindness throughout the community because it really feels like a tangible sense of magic to have that collective effort and physically putting things, gluing things on the wall,” said Chad Borseth, a muralist with Ben’s Bells. “It’s a powerful thing.”

Now completed, the kindness mosaic glitters at the entrance of each school — a reminder to begin and end each day with a kind heart.

To 6-year-old Layla, it’s much more than a mural.

“It’s spreading out love and stuff,” she said. “It’s beautiful.”