Being Kind to the Space We Live In

By Jane Bae

“It takes a village. Everybody comes together and works together, whether they have differences or not, to do what’s best for the students,” says former gifted resource teacher, Gwedette Crummie. Now the principal of Crozet Elementary School (Crozet ES), Crummie plays a powerful role in promoting the creation of a community of kindness for her staff, students, and their families.

In 2015, Crozet ES won the Virginia Department of Education’s Green Ribbon School Award. This prestigious award is given to schools that promote sustainable practices that protect the health and wellness of people and the environment. By establishing nature trails, utilizing outdoor science labs, teaching students how to compost, implementing infrastructures that focus on saving energy, and planting gardens, Crozet ES has actively worked towards engaging in environmentally-conscious practices.

When asked about how the practice of kindness contributed to the achievement of an honor as prestigious as the Green Ribbon School Award, Crummie brought up a different effect - by learning to be kind to the environment, the students learn to be kind to one another. Specifically, as the students gain a full understanding of nature and how it affects them, they translate their newfound consideration to their classmates. The students’ understanding of this relationship is illustrated in their everyday interactions. For instance, Crummie mentioned one student with special needs who tends to get into other people’s personal spaces. While some students get frustrated with this at times, Crummie fondly noted that there are more peers who stand up and recognize that they need to work together to be patient and help him out. The students have learned the importance of unity in cultivating a community of kindness and positivity.

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Being the principal of an elementary school certainly comes with its challenges. Juggling completion of paperwork, presence in the classrooms, operations to keep people safe, and data work is no easy task. Crummie said that being a leader is not about sitting in an office - it is about being of service. It always requires giving one’s time and working long hours. However, she lovingly noted that the school is her home and said, “When people walk in here, it’s like they’re walking in my house. You want to make sure everyone is safe and having a positive experience.” Crummie has made this part of her mission - ensuring that she promotes a safe space in which everyone feels welcome and heard. She has successfully set a high standard for kindness and paved the way for her students to come in and practice the same values. In particular, by developing a thorough understanding of nature and protecting plants and animals, the students are able to treat the environment and each other with the compassion that Crummie exemplifies.

By being a model of kindness, Gwedette Crummie has taught students tremendous amounts about what it means to build a community, and her impacts on the community are clear. Student ownership and self-governance is nothing new to Crozet. If students see an issue, they take it to an adult and propose solutions before the adult can even finish processing the problem. Crummie’s work has not only clearly impacted her students, colleagues, and other community members, but it has also impacted Crummie herself. When asked about how her work has changed who she is and the way she lives her life, she said that it has taught her to become wiser, more patient, and a better listener because “she want[s] to really slow down to acknowledge everyone and make sure that everyone feels heard.”

When asked about the kindest thing someone has ever done for her, Crummie affectionately shared the love she receives from her students. “I love seeing our kids. They leave me notes, cupcakes, and other affirmations of ‘thank you’s’. I get lots of hugs and love. Allowing me to be their leader and having trust in me to be their principal has to be the kindest thing anyone has ever done for me.”

By encouraging sustainable practices and teaching her students the value of being kind to the space they live in, Gwedette Crummie has contributed to the growth of a kind community overall - one that is filled with people who put aside differences and come together to encourage and love one another.

Jane Bae