Kaya Reingold helps middle schoolers get happy

Kaya Reingold ’16 is a founder of The Happy Institute (HI), a program aimed at instilling a greater sense of overall kindness, empathy, compassion, and optimism in middle school children.

HIHI works with middle school kids to create a positive social change throughout schools. Kaya chose to focus on the middle school years because they can be an awkward time as kids are going through puberty, learning about themselves along with those around them, and struggling to find where they fit.

Alexa Levin ’16, one of Kaya’s close friends, says, “Kaya is a great person to teach young kids about happiness and respect because she is one of the nicest people I know.”

During Kaya’s 9th grade year, she participated in Youth Cities, an entrepreneurial program for teens to work towards solving problems in their respective communities. Kaya, with the help of her sister Maddie Reingold ’14, aimed to “take the ideas and values that we had learned during our childhood, and help remedy the issues of the common perception of the middle school years.” The two sisters made it their goal to create a positive change in schools, and mostly, in the students themselves.

It did not come easily. Kaya engaged in extensive research on positive psychology and cognitive development as she developed HI. The program that she developed asks students to go through five short daily steps for a period of 30 days:

  1. Brain Bends — short exercises that integrate both sides of the brain
  2. Quietude — short meditation
  3. Gratitude — being grateful
  4. A-OK — a daily act of kindness
  5. Change — journalling about steps 3 and 4

HI journalImagine a middle school girl who is a part of the program and sets aside time in her day for these five steps. First, she performs exercises that wake her up and get her ready for learning. Through criss cross exercises, including stretching, and touching acupuncture points, she is then ready for step two, which consists of a short meditation that gives her a moment of time to relax and reflect. Step three, gratitude, is a chance for her to think about a couple things she is thankful for from her day. As her daily act of kindness, step four, the girl could decide to put a quarter in a car’s expired parking meter, try to make sure everyone in a group feels included, or even just give someone who needs it a hug. Lastly, she ends her day journaling about what she feels grateful for on that day and the random act of kindness that she performed.

Today, the program has been completed by over 500 students. Kaya shares a letter she received from a student at Lawrence Middle Schools:

“Kaya, we’re into almost 30 days of this program and it has changed me as a person. I am grateful for the acts of kindness that I do every single day. The program helps me write down things that help me be who I am today. The meditation piece has given me the benefit to learn how to zone out when I need to, if I’m too overwhelmed.  Thank you so much for providing this program to my classmates and myself. It has changed my life.”

This note illustrates what Kaya calls her favorite part of the experience: “definitely working with the kids.” She says, “It has been an amazing experience to see that you can change someone else’s mindset through constant small changes.”

So far the program has been adopted by Lexington Montessori School, Lawrence Middle School, and Wareham Middle School. Kaya explains that “working with Dana is definitely a goal,” and she hopes to have the opportunity to do so this year. Kaya plans to pursue working with more schools throughout the remainder of this school year as she will start to have less on her plate before graduation. In the past, Kaya has even missed some school in order to attend schools where she has introduced the program.

These five steps are certainly not limited to middle-schoolers; any Dana Hall student could benefit from Kaya’s Happy Institute steps.

Photographs: Kaya Reingold with middle school students, and a page from a student’s gratitude and kindness journal. Images source: The Happy Institute webpage.

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