Bursting with energy, Lafayette Upper Elementary third-graders excitedly streamed into the gym Wednesday afternoon for hands-on lessons in kindness and gratitude—plus a chance to raise money for the Fredericksburg school.

LUES’s 850 students had spent the last two weeks taking part in Apex Strong, a fundraiser paired with lessons that encourage them to help others and thank those who help them. For each act of kindness they performed, a sponsor could make an online pledge to donate a dollar or more that will be used to give mini grants to teachers and buy educational games.

Now the program was wrapping up by giving each class a chance to put the lessons they’d been learning into practice as they rotated from activity to activity at tables set up around the gym. The third-graders were the last class to take their turn.

At one station, Khadijn Menhajuddin stuck a Band-Aid on a large banner printed with the words “Thank you Nurse!” drew a face on it and signed her name. At another, Nadia Fnu planted wildflower seeds for the school’s garden, and then circled ways she could help the environment on an eco pledge. She chose turning off the lights and unplugging electronics when they aren’t being used.

LUES and its Parent Teacher Association have done fun runs with the Richmond franchise of Phoenix-based Apex Leadership Co. to raise money for the school since 2015. They wanted to do something different this year, and chose the Apex Strong program instead, said Principal Matthew Terry. It is the first school on the East Coast to use the program.

Strong is an acronym for Selfless, Trustworthy, Refueled, Overcome obstacles, Next level and Grateful. The words and their message align “100 percent” with what the school is already stressing, Terry said.

“This was just a way for us to promote service leadership among our children,” he added. “We hope it sticks.”

The students were asked to perform up to 36 acts of kindness during the program, including 24 that they finished as they circulated from table to table at the gym Wednesday. Among other things, they got to sign banners adorned with Lifesaver candies for Fredericksburg’s first responders and letters that will be distributed to service men and women. They also inked their thumbs to make prints on cards for their teachers, which let them know “THUMB BODY” loves them.

Apex also gave the children a list of 40 more acts of kindness to take home, and asked that they do at least six. They could do the dishes without being asked, for example, or say something encouraging to a friend.

“We’re just trying to teach them how they can help their community and each other,” said Don Goding, who owns the Richmond Apex franchise. “It doesn’t take a lot.”

Once the third-graders finished all the activities, they gathered in the center of the gym so the banners everyone had worked on could be presented to representatives from Fredericksburg’s police and fire departments, as well as the Sheriff’s Office.

“This is the only class that is able to present these banners,” Terry told them. “You have to make enough noise for the entire school. Are you ready?”

On the count of three, they shouted a hearty “THANK YOU!!”

The sound was loud enough to drown out the lively music that Apex staff had been playing all day.

Cathy Jett: 540/374-5407 cjett@freelancestar.com

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