Hillcrest’s ‘Small Great Things’


As Hillcrest Elementary School embarked on the journey that is the 2020-2021 school year, we recognized that school would feel noticeably different and that we would need to focus on maintaining our connection to each other and strengthening our sense of community. To paraphrase the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., we decided to concentrate our efforts on doing “small great things.” Guided by the ideas of gratitude and service, Hillcrest staff and students have been busy cleaning, collecting, donating, honoring, serving, and paying tribute to those that “lift us.”

This year Hillcrest created The Beautification Committee, dedicated to “prettying up” our school, both inside and out. This voluntary committee of staff members decorated the staff lounge, brightened up the building with fresh and inspirational bulletin boards (like “What Brings You Joy,”) and adorned the hallways and bathrooms with messages of appreciation and encouragement. Inspired by the Beautification Committee, additional staff volunteers and family members, dubbed the “Clean-up Crew,” came to school one chilly October Saturday and spent several hours weeding and tidying up our outdoor classroom space in order to be able to plant again in the spring, hopefully alongside our Hurricane students.

Despite the challenges that this school year has thrust upon us, Hillcrest team members have continued to show grace and gratitude. As part of our PBIS program this year, we have begun to formally recognize and support each other with our “You Deserve a Trophy” initiative. Each month, staff members are invited to nominate each other to receive a trophy for being exceptional. With sixteen different reasons to be recognized, including the Hillcrest Humanitarian Award, the Got Your Back Award, and the Outside-the-box Thinker Award, in October alone, 23 staff members received trophies and personalized certificates. 

Hurricane students, in addition, continue to be recognized for their excellence as well. Each month Hillcrest awards Student of the Month certificates, and celebrates these students at our monthly virtual community meetings. To kick off our focus word for November, Gratitude, Hillcrest 4th graders worked behind the scenes to create a video presentation sharing what they are grateful for. Spearheaded by new staff member Addison Gerdes, the 4th grade teacher team created a school wide Gratitude Turkey project, encouraging all of our Hurricanes to learn about and show gratitude though this hands-on creative SEL activity. The Gratitude Turkey Project, along with Dr. Amy Pieniazkiewicz-Grude’s amazing “What Lifts You” feather project, are tangible reminders that we have much to be thankful for at Hillcrest. The next time you are in the building, please check out our students’ beautiful feathers that are on display in the main hallway. You’ll feel grateful and inspired. You’ll feel like you “have wings.”

To encourage our Hurricanes to embrace our tenants of gratitude and service, we’ve created Bucket-Filler Bingo, a school-wide challenge to celebrate and spread kindness. Inspired by the book Have You Filled a Bucket Today?: A Guide to Daily Happiness for Kids by Carol McCloud, our students will be filling other people’s buckets in many ways, including helping with chores, sending cards to seniors, sharing silly jokes, and writing thank you notes. We hope that our bucket-filling deeds will spread throughout Antioch D34 and through our beloved community, and we invite you to participate and cheer us on as we continue to do “small great things” at Hillcrest Elementary School.