"No one is fighting or pushing anyone on the playground anymore," third-grader Ellie McIntosh said

By Alex Heigl
Updated March 14, 2016 01:00 PM
Credit: Dean Mitchell/Getty Images

What do you do when a third-grader asks you about a mass shooting?

That was the dilemma faced by Mary Costello, who teaches at Evans Elementary School in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, when one of her students asked her if San Bernadino was in Wisconsin.

“We started talking about all the bad things happening in the world,” Nora Torres, 9, one of Costello’s students, told USA Today. “It’s very sad how mean people are shooting other people for no reason.”

Eight-year-old Owen Rohlfs chimed in: “It is like the whole world is being infected by a mean people germ.”

Costello tried to switch her students’ point of focus by talking about all the good things that were happening in the world, and from there, the idea for “joy germs” took off.

One student started a sock drive for children in foster care, another started collecting donations for the Humane Society. A third collected cough drops, hand warmers and gloves to drop off at the local homeless shelter.

But the kids’ (and Costello’s) idea spread like a real-life (albeit much less nefarious!) germ: Other classes joined in, and a tangible change in attitude spread across the school.

“No one is fighting or pushing anyone on the playground anymore,” third-grader Ellie McIntosh, told USA Today. And Yajaira Henderson, who’s behind the foster-care sock drive, said the campaign has “changed me. I feel like it wiped all the bad away.”