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Dec 31, 2018 3:56 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press

Educator From Southampton Founds Online School To Spread Message Of Kindness

Jan 2, 2019 9:23 AM

In the American education system, Brian Tupper was a student for 20 years and a teacher for 17. With that much experience, he has grown to understand every aspect—assignments, tests, deadlines, bullying, student engagement, teaching strategies, etc.—from both points of view. The Southampton resident now deems the whole system flawed and outdated.

Four years ago, he had the idea to create a new type of school that he believes would better educate children. So, he founded the Kindest School.

Expected to begin in September 2019, the Kindest School is a free online international school where children of all ages can take classes as well as perform volunteer work and personalized learning activities throughout the week.

The school will use a curriculum called the Kindest Generation, which Mr. Tupper developed. It takes the emphasis away from grades and tests and instead focuses on character education, social-emotional learning and language arts with lessons shaped around the acronym KIND—Knowledge is power, Inspire others, Never give up and Diversity is strength.

“There’s so much stress put on kids. So much unnecessary stress,” he explained. “I don’t believe grades really matter. Work and effort and giving those habits that they create—that’s what matters, not the grade. If they produce a great product, that’s the end goal.”

Mr. Tupper, 41, began the project while he was a fifth grade teacher at Korea International School on Jeju Island, which follows the American curriculum. He said that his students, feeling the pressure of the culture’s rigorous education standards, would stay up late on school nights to complete assignments. On top of that, some students were being bullied by others.

He would try to take the edge off by having fun with his students and engaging them in interactive lessons. While trying to bring a love of learning to them, they in turn brought a love of teaching back to him.

The students “were so kind … They brought that love of education back to me, because I was losing it,” said Mr. Tupper, who, before teaching in Korea, taught for 12 years at inner-city middle and elementary schools in Jacksonville, Florida.

He then shared some of his experiences in the Florida schools, where his frustration with the American school system really grew.

“I was breaking up food fights every day. I got hit in the head with a three-hole punch stapler, breaking up a fight on the day of the state testing,” he said. “I was, like, it is time to go. I fell in love with Asia, because it’s just a big hub of education.”

The Korea International School was where Mr. Tupper flourished. Although it still followed an American curriculum, he said that teaching methods there were different and he was given more freedom, calling his style “innovative and fearless.”

At the end of his first and second year, the school presented him with the Faculty Global Leader Award. He got involved in numerous service and fundraising projects through the school, including building a library and technology lab for a local orphanage, annual gift drives for children in need and raising money for typhoon victims in the Philippines.

He then taught fifth grade at Baku Oxford School in Azerbaijan for a year and a half before deciding to fully pursue his online school.

In the nine months leading up to the Kindest School’s start date, Mr. Tupper will try to get funding so that it can be free to students, and he can work out any kinks. He hopes to sell his Kindest Generation curriculum to schools or teachers and get sponsorships.

He moved to Bangkok on December 27, in time to attend upcoming job fairs and educational conferences to sell his curriculum. He plans to base the school out of Bangkok, which he said acts as a kind of central hub of the international school community.

“The international educator community is very tight-knit. Everybody kind of knows everybody,” he said. “I’m going to be working hopefully to network through them to try and get the curriculum to their schools. And I’d love to bring it to American schools.”

Mr. Tupper’s passion for helping children stems from his upbringing. Born and raised in Southampton, he grew up in a caring family with parents who dedicated their lives to helping others. They both worked for the Heart of the Hamptons, one of the largest charity organizations on the East End, for about two decades before retiring—his mother, Mary Ann Tupper, was the director, and his father, William Tupper, headed the assistance program and drove the sick and elderly to medical appointments.

He was also bullied in fifth grade and used that experience to combat bullying as a teacher. With the Kindest School, he said he wanted to give children a “fear-free education” as it removes the physical classroom setting.

“I tell kids I know what it’s like to be bullied and I know how to bully,” he said. “At the end of the day, I said, ‘There’s a difference between bullying and a difference between having fun with each other. There’s no reason to sit there and hurt somebody with your words when you can make them laugh with your words.’”

His older brother, Jeff Tupper, is a fifth grade teacher at John M. Marshall Elementary School in East Hampton. He said he used some of Mr. Tupper’s lessons and his students enjoyed it.

“It’s a totally different approach when [students] have a choice in what they’re reading. Kids can connect to it,” his brother said. “[Brian] really has the biggest heart and he’s very loyal. He’s very passionate about teaching and he’s taken his passion around the world.”

To show his support, Jeff Tupper made his brother a jacket for Christmas with an embroidered Kindest Generation logo.

The foremost qualities that Mr. Tupper wants his students to gain from his school is empathy and a growth mindset. He chose to focus his lessons on contemporary subjects that teach compassion and empathy rather than on topics meant to solely boost intelligence level and test scores.

Students will learn about Malala Yousafzai, a feminist activist and youngest Nobel Prize laureate, as well as conduct a novel study on “Wonder” by R.J. Palacio, a story about friendship and empathy that inspired the Choose Kind campaign. For the start date, all lesson plans will be available in English, Chinese, Korean and Spanish, with the goal of expanding to as many languages as possible over time.

He also noted that there will always be at least one lesson on climate science. “We haven’t been able to teach it. There’s really not an established curriculum that focuses on it,” he said.

Modern and user-friendly technology will be used to present the course material in interactive ways. It will use a variety of software tools such as NearPod—of which Mr. Tupper is a certified trainer—Newsela, Google apps and Quizlet.

There are no grade levels associated with the courses, which is where Newsela comes in.

The popular platform pulls recent news articles from “reputable” outlets and modifies them to be understandable in different languages and at different reading levels, allowing more flexibility in the classroom. Any student who uses Newsela could choose their best way to understand the material.

This software is especially helpful for students trying to learn the English language, which Mr. Tupper believes many of his international students will be doing. In addition to Newsela, other aspects of the lesson, like videos and infographics, would cater to students of all grade levels.

He made sure that his lessons were engaging so that students wanted to learn the material. To test that, he presented the Kindest Generation curriculum to his students in Azerbaijan and Korea and said he received only positive feedback.

“I got a lot of feedback right from the kids. If the kids aren’t going to buy into it, then there’s no use in going forward with it,” he said. “They told me, ‘We love it. We love this idea. We loved your lessons.’”

Once the school gains momentum, Mr. Tupper said his next big step will be to get the school accredited, which would make it easier to get more funding. He assisted his schools in Korea and Azerbaijan get accredited, he said.

“I would love this to be the largest international school in the world. That’s the grand vision,” he said.

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