Junior high school project promotes self-esteem

GREENFIELD — “Because I’m helping my grandpa fight cancer,” reads one message.

“Because I’m someone’s child,” says another.

At the end of the school day at Greenfield Central Junior High School, a slideshow featuring photos of every student and staff member is broadcast on televisions throughout the building.

Every person in the school, from student to secretary, janitor to geometry teacher — is pictured holding a whiteboard with a handwritten message with #WhyIMatter.

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The mission was simple — finish the sentence with something that makes you proud of who you are.

Greenfield Central Junior High began the #WhyYouMatter campaign this year with hopes of spreading a universal message of encouragement to the school community. School officials plan to post printed copies of every photo around the building in an effort to help students build self-esteem.

School leaders presented the project this week to school board members, who commended their effort.

The junior high school’s administration worked toward getting their own project rolling after getting the idea from a high school in Michigan that started a similar campaign, said school counselor Beth Fortuna.

Students and staff were encouraged to be creative. Participants wrote messages about their artistic abilities, their passion for helping others and other traits highlighting their individuality.

“Most people their age worry about what other people think about them,” Fortuna said. “This project gives them an opportunity to be themselves and to be more comfortable with who they are.”

Educators are mindful of the issues that young students are dealing with on a daily basis, said principal Dan Jack. They wanted to offer an outlet for students who are struggling with bullying or anxiety, perhaps just struggling to figure out who they are and their place among their peers.

“We were trying to think of a way to put it into the culture of the school that everybody has value,” Jack said.

They’re sending that message by ensuring the inclusion of everyone, regardless of their age or role in the school, Jack said. Rather than getting wrapped up in what other people think about them, or about their purpose in life, they can focus on simple positive statements of character.

“It humanizes every single person in the building,” he said.

Encouraged by the project’s success, the junior high school plans to continue the tradition by starting anew next fall.