Hoonah students and teachers stand with Sparks the orange frog as part of the Happiness Advantage training done by GoodThink.

Hoonah students and teachers stand with Sparks the orange frog as part of the Happiness Advantage training done by GoodThink.

Hoonah, happiness and orange frogs

There was talk of bombs at the Hoonah Jr. and Sr. High School on Tuesday, Jan. 10, but not the exploding kind. Instead, they were “joy bombs.”

“It’s a term I coined,” Devin Hughes, a trainer for GoodThink’s Orange Frog Professional Development program, told the Capital City Weekly in a phone interview. “The whole intent is to drop a bomb of joy on another group or person or department or classroom.”

The high school students ran to the elementary to drop their “joy bombs” in the form of high fives and words of encouragement.

“It got so crazy that the little kids came over wanting to know what was going on. They hadn’t seen kids that excited at school before,” Hughes said.

What was going on was a training in happiness and positive psychology, done by the GoodThink organization, which teaches the science behind happiness and techniques to cultivate it.

“We’re being intentional about [happiness,]” Hughes said.

Participants are asked to daily take note of three things they’re grateful for every day. The goal is that over time, it becomes a habit to be grateful. Second, they journal for three-four minutes about a positive experience each day. Third, they are asked to do individual, random acts of kindness for others.

Hughes said the training has lessened bullying and increased SAT scores in other schools.


How it began

Superintendent PJ Ford Slack invited Hughes to do the training in hopes it would help change the social atmosphere of the school.

Slack, who originally worked in the Sitka School District, came out of her two-month retirement to become the superintendent for Hoonah. The high school, she said, was struggling to retain a principal.

“I got this really heavy duty feeling from the staff when I walked in,” Slack said. “I don’t think they even knew it … the kids were good but the adults were kind of gnarly with each other.”

When she agreed to stay on, she knew she had to do something about the social environment.

At the National Superintendent Conference, she saw a presentation by Shawn Achor, author of “The Happiness Advantage” and founder of GoodThink. She sat next to people wearing orange, who turned out to be from a school district which had done the training. They encouraged her to speak with Achor, and the International Thought Leader Network, of which GoodThink is a part, agreed to do the training in Hoonah for less than it charges companies.

In April she and two other teachers became certified trainers. Then, in the second week of August, a seasoned trainer, Slack and the two other teachers did happiness training with the teachers and staff, right before the Glacier Bay clan house dedication.

Slack said she didn’t believe it would have gone so well without staff training.

“It was with over 90 kids and it was an 18-hour day plus, together, dancing in the rain, changing kids in and out of their regular clothes to dress in regalia, and I never heard a complaint,” Slack said.

Adam Gretsinger, the P.E. and history teacher as well as basketball coach who went and got certified along with Slack, said the training helped the teachers get to know each other better. Everyone “was a little more there,” he said.

The high school students are “power leaders” Slack said, so she wanted them to be trained first (theirs resembled the adults’ training, based off of Achor’s book).

The middle school students went next, but they got introduced to the orange frog material, a graphic novel also by Achor but for kids. It’s about an orange frog named Spark, an Aesop Fable-esque tale on happiness and the power of positivity and how it can change your life as well as others. Spark is avoided by other frogs because they think his bright coloring will attract herons; turns out, the orange makes the herons think he’s poisonous.

The elementary students, who are not having a training, will just have their teachers read them the story.

“It’s really about being okay, being different. Being different means happy,” Heather Powell, a Hoonah Tlingit language teacher. told the Capital City Weekly.

Powell said happiness is contagious, as with the “joy bomb” theory.

Gretsinger said some kids didn’t buy into the training’s teachings, but some “loved it.”

“…there were [some students] who we weren’t really sure how they’d react and they jumped right on and really loved it,” he said.

He hopes the momentum will keep on going.

“For one, us teachers really have to be on board and do our part and try to be good role models and not be negative and let the kids see that,” Gretsinger said. The schools will have little slips of paper with sayings like “You rock” and others which student will be free to rip off and give to someone. A cardboard cutout of Spark the orange frog still sits out in the hallway as a reminder to the students. There will also be posters up in the hallways with questions for students to ponder about happiness.

Slack said sometime in April the high school will have a high five day. They will run from school and give high fives to everyone they can in their paths, all the way to the mayor’s office.


A student’s impression

“To be honest, I was in a state of depression right before, but [the training] pulled me out of it pretty quick,” said Nick Jacobsen, a ninth grader.

His favorite part of the training was the joy bombs.

“We went around and, instead of us just being happy, we went around and made little kids happy and other people happy,” Jacobsen said. “It was the best. I thought it was absolutely amazing how out of context it actually was. We’re usually talking about us being happy but not everyone else, only ourselves, which I thought was kind of selfish at first. Then we did the joy bomb and then everyone was happy, everyone in the school [was]smiling.”

After the training, Jacobsen said his classmates seemed more interested and mentally present.

He plans to continue with the skills he’s learned, he said. They can work for all his classmates, but they have to want to do it for it to work.

“If they just do it because they have to do it, then it’s not going to help,” he said. “You have to want to be happy or it won’t work. It’s something that you choose, not something that you’re forced to do.”

• Contact reporter Clara Miller at clara.miller@morris.com.

Editor’s note: This story has been corrected to reflect the fact that the training was not offered by GoodThink but by the International Thought Leader Network, of which GoodThink is a part.

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