GOSHEN — Tami Hicks noticed a downward shift in student and staff morale at the end of the first semester as they strove to adjust to a pandemic-altered school year.
“Trying to do school while social distancing, wearing masks and trying to keep students caught up that have to quarantine and teaching with a shortage of staff adds a whole additional layer of stress to what can already be a stressful year,” said Hicks, a principal at Model Elementary School.
So when Hicks read about a high school in Chelsea, Michigan, that started a #WhyYouMatter campaign to spread positivity and self-worth following the deaths of two students, she knew that was a program she wanted to bring to Model.
The first-year project called for all students, teachers and staff to create an “I matter because (fill the blank)” statement. Model teacher Ellen Longcor then took a photo of everyone holding their statement.
The black-and-white photos printed on 12-inch by 8-inch cardboard include a simple and important message that serves as a display in the halls of the elementary. The purpose is to remind everyone of their self-worth and relevance, Hicks said.
“Every single sign and picture of our kids is a positive reminder to our Model family that each and every one of us makes a difference that we each have a purpose and each has worth,” she said.
The project also serves as a way to unify the school, Hicks said, as many students are in class and others are online.
“What’s been happening is we’ve been having kids walking down the hallway reading other kids’ signs and reasons why other kids matter,” she said. “So, they’re making connections and learning about other kids they didn’t know.”
The messages varied – some basic, some humorous and some personal, but all valuable.
Monica Pierce, a fourth-grader, said she appreciated the project because it reminded her why she and her classmates mattered.
“I matter because I’m a great person and no one else is like me,” she said.
Principal Hicks took a more poignant approach, advocating for her son, who has Angelman syndrome, a severe speech impairment.
“I matter because I’m my son’s voice,” she said.
Fifth-grader Leo Arias said, “I matter because there are people and my friends that care about me and help me to do my best.”
Parents and families of students will be able to view the photos in person on Monday, with COVID-19 precautions being taken.
“Every single person was able to come up with a reason why they matter and we were able to address kids that were not able to come up with a reason and even adults struggled with it,” Hicks said. “So now, we’re able to offer support and help them with identifying self-worth and intervention. I don’t know that we would’ve been able to have done that if we didn’t do a project like this.”