Tacky Box®: Creating Systemic Change in the Way Children Treat One Another

What would the world be like if we trained every child to choose kindness? We have a way to do this...and it works.

Photo of Chris Phelps
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Founding Story: Share a story about a key experience or spark that helps the network understand why this project got started or a story about how you became inspired about the potential for this project to succeed.

"Necessity is the mother of invention," and this old adage was fully realized for me the day my daughter, Emma, a kindergartner at the time, nonchalantly uttered her first four-letter word. Shocked and unprepared for the moment, I panicked, then got creative, and Tacky Box came to be. Tacky Box was my impromptu attempt to help Emma choose her words and actions carefully. And, thanks to Emma's choice to be kind, it worked. What I didn't expect was how well or the resulting ripple effect. Emma and Jake, my then 3- year- old son, began to use the tool to self-monitor by writing down and locking up what they saw or heard and deemed ‘tacky’. After the first week, I saw a noticeable change in both of my children. They began to take pride in distinguishing what's appropriate and inappropriate and in policing their own words and actions. They also began to encourage those around them to be kind. This unforeseen result gave me hope that we could collectively raise this generation to put kindness first and ultimately create a more respectful culture. I approached Dallas ISD Counseling Services with the idea of partnering on the development of the Tacky Box SEL program. These champions, dedicated to training the hearts of students, responded, "We believe Tacky Box has the ability to change the world, and we want to be the team to start the change." Together, we created a proactive, scalable tool that transforms a school climate and addresses bullying at its root.

Which categories describe you? (the answer will not be public)

  • White (for example: German, Irish, English, Italian, Polish, French, Caucasian)



Location: Where is your organization headquartered? [State]

  • Texas

Location: Where is your organization headquartered? [City]

Dallas, Texas

Location: Where is your project primarily creating impact? [State]

  • Texas

Location: Where is your project primarily creating impact? [City]

Dallas, Texas, Fort Worth, Texas, Boerne, Texas

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

Over 3.2 million students are victims of bullying each year. Approximately 160,000 teens skip school every day because of bullying and cyber-bullying. Sadly, resulting youth suicides are on the rise. Policymakers, reformers and educators have been searching for a way to structure school-based interventions that reach all students in order to create safe and effective schools. Existing programs are reactive, focused on regulating the environment once bullying exists or even criminalizing the behavior. Children are impressionable and adopt the patterns that they see modeled. Bullying will not stop unless children are taught at a young age that the kinder way is the better way. Tacky Box is a proactive, preventative solution that empowers students to make a better choice, ultimately stopping bullying before it ever starts.

Tacky Box® offers a proactive solution to end bullying by tackling the issue at its root, putting a stop to bullying before it ever starts.  At its core, Tacky Box is about citizenship, which must be inculcated from the first step into a Kindergarten classroom and practiced daily throughout the elementary school experience. Leveraging visual, auditory and tactile senses through live theater, literature, writing, music and a tangible tool, the Tacky Box program activates the whole child to make his or her personal choice to be kind, and provides an opportunity to self-monitor on a daily basis during Tacky Box Time. By implementing the program year over year throughout elementary school, the concept that the kinder way is the better way will stick.

Tacky Box has the ability to change a generation and encourage a more respectful society.   Over ten thousand children have experienced Tacky Box with remarkable results. This effective Social Emotional Learning program disrupts the thought processes that result in negative behavior and instills in children a sense of pride and self-worth. Through their personal choice to treat others differently than what is modeled for them in society, children are developing a stronger sense of self, purpose and belonging by being part of a kinder tribe.  As a result, Tacky Box is transforming school climates.

Is your model focused on any of the following traditionally underserved communities?

  • No, not explicitly

Does your model work within any of the following sectors?

  • Education

Year Founded


Project Stage

  • Scaling (the solution has passed the previous stages, and the next step will be growing its impact on a regional or global scale)

Example: Walk the network through a specific example of what happens when a person or group engages with your solution.

Tacky Box puts the power of choice in the child's hands and proactively inspires students to choose who they want to be through an original theatrical production, music score, and age appropriate literature introduced during elementary school assemblies. Students are given a personal Tacky Box and materials to write down what they recognize to be tacky words and actions expressed by themselves or others during daily Tacky Box Time. By writing down this behavior and locking it up in the Tacky Box, the child makes a conscious choice to remove it from the heart and mind. Through Tacky Box, impressionable children are influencing each other in positive ways. It is the power of this positive choice that is creating systemic change.

Impact: What was the impact of your work last year? Please also describe the projected future impact for the coming years.

Tacky Box partnered with Atmos Energy and Dallas ISD to pilot its innovative program to over 10,000 students, K-3rd, in 27 elementary schools during the 2015/16 school year. Based on pilot results, Dallas ISD requested the Tacky Box program be extended with age appropriate content through 5th grade and intends to scale Tacky Box to the District's 80,000 elementary students during the 2016/17 school year. Additional districts will also launch in 2016/17. The overwhelming feedback is that Tacky Box makes a true connection with the child and has an instant impact on behavioral incidences in the classroom. A baseline evaluation of the pilot conducted just three months after implementation indicated that 71% of school counselors had already seen a reduction in bullying; 71% of teachers noticed a positive change in behavior; and 100% of counselors wish to continue using the program annually.

Organization Type

  • for-profit

Annual Budget

  • $1mil - $5mil

Financial Sustainability Plan: What is your solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

Tacky Box is a for-purpose company dedicated to creating systemic change in the way children treat one another by scaling our model to as many students as possible, as quickly as possible. As a result, we operate as a for-profit company with monetizable assets. School districts purchase our Elementary program for $16 per student, and we collaborate with school counselors for implementation in order to keep the investment per child to a minimum.

Unique Value Proposition: How else is this problem being addressed? Are there other organizations working in the same field, and how does your project differ from these other approaches?

Tacky Box is revolutionizing the SEL space by offering a cost-effective, individual intervention that goes directly to the student. Most SEL models involve training the teacher to train the student, which is proving expensive to scale and difficult to implement in the current teaching model that focuses on teaching to the test. Tacky Box is the only program that activates the whole child to make a personal choice to be kind, provides an opportunity to self-monitor on a daily basis, and leverages the untapped asset of school districts, elementary school counselors, for implementation.

Reflect on the Field and its Future: Stepping outside of your project, what do you see as the most important or promising shifts that can advance children’s wellbeing?

Recent developments in Neuroscience reveal that the brain is not fully developed until age 26 and, in turn, is unequipped to attach consequences to actions in critical moments. As a result, we now understand the importance of helping children, teens and young adults proactively put themselves in difficult situations and understand possible outcomes on alternate ends of the spectrum -- to literally train their brains to develop positive, decision-making patterns. This insight has the potential to halt the playground to prison pipeline and reduce the mass incarceration epidemic in this country.

Source: How did you hear about the Children’s Wellbeing Challenge? (the answer will not be public)

  • Facebook

Referral: If you discovered the Challenge thanks to an organization or person other than Ashoka, who was it? (the answer will not be public)

I worked with Megan Mylan, a former Ashoka employee, last year and have been following the organization ever since she shared it with me. I was thrilled to see the Challenge posted on Facebook as a follower.
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Attachments (3)

Dallas ISD Testimonials.pdf

What Dallas ISD Educators and Administrators Have to Say About Tacky Box


Join the conversation:

Photo of Doug Gould

Thank you for doing this important work to address bullying in schools. I would be interested to hear more details on how the model works and what kind of instruction and coaching the kids receive. Do students have an opportunity to discuss what they put in the Tacky Box and work through issues? Best of luck with your program.

Photo of Chris Phelps

Hi, Doug. I appreciate the kind words and the encouragement. We worked closely with school counselors to create a guidance lesson curriculum so the counselors reinforce the message during those lessons in very creative ways.   They do an amazing job of working with students to discuss words and actions they've put into the Tacky Box and uncover any deeper issues.  We also provide copies of our award-winning book, from which the musical was created, to keep in the classroom for teachers.  They create reading and writing lessons to reinforce the message, not just in circle time when the story is read, but through actual academic lessons.  Lastly, we provide the script and musical score to music programs and allow free rein to art programs to use the characters for art projects.  So, Tacky Box touches so many parts of the elementary experience, reinforcing the adoption of personal responsibility for a student's own words and actions.  The success of our program stems from the power of choice paired with repetition during Tacky Box Time and in as many other ways as possible.  Please let me know if this answers your question.  I so appreciate you taking the time to learn about Tacky Box!  All the best to you as well!  -C