LOWER TOWNSHIP — First- and second- graders don’t think much about politics, but they do know that in an election, somebody wins and somebody loses.
Feelings get hurt, and kids can empathize with that, regardless of politicians’ ages or beliefs.
“I saw Donald Trump on the news, and he looks really sad,” said Jasani Gomez, a student in Rebecca Johnson’s second-grade class at the Carl T. Mitnick School in the North Cape May section of the township. “He wanted to win. Maybe another Election Day he will win. Then he will feel better.”
Jasani and classmates were hard at work Tuesday transforming used political lawn signs into kindness signs.
Jasani and classmate Jayden Cintron made a sign that said, “You’re A Winner.”
Messages on other signs were “Bee Kind” with drawings of honeybees and “Kindness Wins.”
The new kindness signs are laminated and installed over political lawn signs, said school counselor Sherri Boyle. She came up with the project as a way to celebrate World Kindness Day, which was Friday.
“We have done 30, they are out in the community now, and we are continuing,” Boyle said as several classes worked on more signs in the lunchroom at the school.
“People will feel happy when they look at the signs,” Jayden said.
“It’s good to see that children can show us how to behave more appropriately,” said U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew, R-2nd, when asked about the student project on Wednesday. “They are showing us we should love each other and treat each other better.”
Van Drew won re-election in November after a long and tough campaign.
Van Drew lost the first time he ran for state Assembly many years ago. Losing can teach you a lot, he said, and it’s a common experience in politics.
“Abe Lincoln lost many times,” Van Drew said of the 16th U.S. president, who led the nation during the Civil War. “He just kept trying, working and believing he had something to offer in a time of great challenge.”
In the school hallway were piles of signs for Brendan Sciarra and Elizabeth F. Casey, Democrats who ran for the Cape May County Board of Chosen Freeholders but did not win. They were waiting to be covered with new messages.
“I collected them,” Sciarra said Wednesday. He dropped them off at Cape May County Board of Elections Registrar Mike Kennedy’s house. Kennedy’s wife, Heather, is a second grade teacher at Mitnick.
“I thought it was a great idea — much better than throwing them out,” Sciarra said. “It’s good the kids can put them to good use.”
He said he went into the freeholder race knowing it would be an uphill battle for a Democrat to win a freeholder seat in Cape May County.
“I enjoyed (running). It was great meeting all the different people,” Sciarra said. While he would rather have won, he learned a lot and overall it was a positive experience, he said.
Mitnick Principal Christine Granero said the signs are going up in high-traffic areas, where they will be easily seen by almost everyone in the community.
“Parents can see some of the things we do here, since they can’t come into the building,” Granero said of COVID-19 restrictions that are keeping parents from seeing their children’s art in the school. The pre-K, first- and second-grade school is doing a mix of in-person and virtual learning.
Parents also have been instrumental in donating the yard signs, Boyle said, and teachers and students have embraced the project.
The messages of kindness are reinforced in lesson plans, said second grade teacher Rebecca Johnson.
She recently read to her class “Ordinary Mary’s Extraordinary Deed” by Emily Pearson, about a girl whose single act of kindness has a ripple effect that results in 6.1 billion acts of kindness radiating out over the world.
Boyle hopes the students’ messages will help heal some of the hard feelings over the recent election.
“We need to be a little bit more united,” Boyle said. Regardless of political opinion, “everybody gets kindness.”