School kids inspired by 'Wonder' and kindness
Helen Morgan students win private screening

Some of the Wonder -Full Kindness Contest lucky winners: from left, Lauren Tate, Lucy Levicky Brianna Mercer, Brighid Fadden, Ella Duphiney, Charlotte Boye-Codjoe, James Killen, Caiden Loyer, Trevor Eckland and Luca O'Krepky. photos by Rose Sgarlato

By Rose Sgarlato
SPARTA To share the message of kindness from best selling book and soon to be released motion picture “Wonder,” Helen Morgan Elementary School celebrated with a special contest.
Author R.J. Palacio’s story “Wonder” is about Auggie Pullman, a 10-year-old boy with a facial deformity. The New York Times bestseller has been read by over six million people, according to and is known to have been the inspiration behind the Choose Kind movement.
“Our goal is to shine a global spotlight on modern literature,” said Stephanie Bernardo, media specialist at Helen Morgan.
The WONDER-FULL contest idea came about when Helen Morgan School was chosen as one of 400 winners to receive an advanced screening of Wonder made possible by Lionsgate Films' ‘Wonder in the Classroom’ national contest.
With this in mind, fourth and fifth graders were asked: “What does choosing kindness mean to you?” Students had a week to complete their submissions and were encouraged to use any format and get creative.
Two hundred students participated in the contest with 176 entries (some teamed up) and 35 students won a Golden Ticket, entry to the advanced screening held Oct.26 at Sparta Theatre.
“A variety of entries came in: songs, artwork, Google slide presentations, essays and poems. One team created an entire website,” said Bernardo. ‘It was electrifying. It was great. Everyone loved it.”
All the entries showed great effort and personal meaning including one, said Bernardo, was a balloon filled with answers when popped.
The 35 winners are now Kindness Ambassadors who will promote kindness activities over the month of November at their school. And all of the students at HM will be seeing the movie on Nov.20 and Nov.21 soon after its release.
“Although ‘Wonder’ was released more than five years ago, this book continues to resonate with all that are fortunate to read it. We strive, as educators, to weave stories into content, to make our lessons more meaningful and effective for our students,” said Doug Layman, principal of Helen Morgan.
The Kindness Ambassadors along with some teachers attended the advanced screening last Thursday, Oct. 26 at Sparta Theatre where afterwards Layman moderated a discussion.
“Wonder” was well received by the captive audience.
“No other movie could stand in front of it. It was the best of the year,” said fourth grader Brighid Fadden.
Fifth grader Ella Duphiney said the movie made the book more visual.
“Seeing the actual people made it feel more alive. I did not expect Augie to look like that.”
“I think Julian (the bully) deserved a second chance,” said fourth grader Trevor Ekeland.
And fifth grader Brianna Mancini related to the movie because she has a cousin with special needs.
Layman further explained the relevance of the movie to the Helen Morgan community:
“At HMS we felt that we could use the story as a means of putting our character education program into context. The central themes of empathy, friendship, and 'choosing kind' in the book, and the film, speak to the heart of the preadolescent journey. Our goal is that through this entire Wonder experience, that our students have a better understanding of how they can have a positive influence on their peers, and ultimately, themselves."