Teaching Kindness to Kids


Appleton, Wis.


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ERIC VANDER LOOP’S FOURTH-GRADE teacher shared baseball cards with him at recess. That long-ago gesture taught Vander Loop, now a fifth-grade teacher at Woodland Intermediate School in Appleton, Wis., to celebrate passions as a way to engage kids. “Those moments connecting over something I loved were a big deal to me,” he says. “If students appreciate the fact they’re there, then all the academic stuff falls into place.” So, along with science and math, Vander Loop includes caring in his curriculum. “Eric’s kids come out excited to learn,” says Principal Craig Miller. Small gestures—a river studies class instills his appreciation of the outdoors—turned much bigger in 2008 when a teaching aide’s mom was diagnosed with cancer. Vander Loop’s class reacted strongly and held a basketball free-throw contest to raise money for research. Since then the annual effort has expanded, with fourth graders doing canned-goods drives and high school students performing a benefit concert. So far their efforts, named Unless after a line from Dr. Seuss’s The Lorax (“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not”), have raised more than $100,000 for the American Cancer Society. That accomplishment—the funds and the intangible gift of teaching kindness—has made Vander Loop one of 30 winners of People and Major League Baseball’s All-Star Teachers campaign. “He teaches how powerful people can be, especially when we come together,” says Annika Betz, 17, an original Unless fifth grader. Says Vander Loop of his students: “They’re going to be good friends, husbands, wives and workers, and being a part of that is the rush.”

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