Chelsea Community Encourages Students to Take Charge
In 2016, the Chelsea community responded to the tragic loss of three students with a program called #WhyYouMatter. Teachers and staff discussed how the school district could encourage students to take charge of the battle to provide emotional support opportunities in the school and #WhyYouMatter was born.
The program, under the guidance of Ms. Laura Naar, provided students an opportunity to interact with each other and eliminate the stigma of mental health issues within the Chelsea School District. 5 years later, #WhyYouMatter is still going strong in Chelsea, 34 states and multiple countries. All because of Chelsea School District students and staff.
A conversation with senior student leaders Emma Smith, Kate Vanderspool, April Montoye, and junior leader Juliana Banotai revealed some of the reasons #WhyYouMatter has been impactful.
WhyYouMatter allows the team to interact with almost every student at Chelsea High School (CHS), taking the student’s photo and a handwritten whiteboard message that gives each student a chance to say ‘Why they Matter’. Since 2016 student leaders have chosen other themes such as #Wishyouknew and What’s Your Common Thread. The students elected to bring back #WhyYouMatter for 2020-21 because of the challenges and opportunities created by virtual learning. There are 12 core students who run #WhyYouMatter, and more than 20 students participate with implementation.
“We love the sense of helping others, especially with the challenge this year of COVID-19,” said Senior Emma Smith. “The messages provided by students warm your heart when people show their personality.” Listmaster Juliana explained the #WhyYouMatter process. “Students come to the classroom and we are socially distanced. We take a photo of the student holding a white board with their message.”
Juliana then catalogs each photo to ensure every student who wants their photo taken can get one. Virtual accommodations are made for students who can’t come into the studio physically.
If a student doesn’t want their photo taken, they can put the white board in front of their face to remain anonymous, get their photo taken with a friend, or simply go through the exercise of talking about why they matter to a teacher. To date more than 1200 students have participated in #WhyYouMatter.
“The strength of #WhyYouMatter are the conversations,” said Kate. “Seeing everyone come together is so inspiring. It gives the students a safe way to talk about uncomfortable subjects, and every student is heard.”
Montoye believes there is potential to expand this kind of program as students move on to whatever is next for them after they graduate. “These kinds of situations and programs are so important; they are always on our mind. I hope there are programs like this on campus. If not, we will have an opportunity to create one.”
The program will continue in 2021-22 as leaders like Juliana plan out the next steps. “We definitely want to recruit more students to participate in our planning process, bring back assemblies and speakers series, and get back to a more normal school process.” Learn more about the program at whyyoumatter.org