FORSYTH COUNTY, Ga. — With more than 2,600 students at West Forsyth High School, it’s easy to feel lost in the crowd for any student, let alone freshmen.
That’s why years ago, a program called Freshmen Fellows was created to encourage leadership.
School administrators, including Assistant Principal Molly Bradley, were told the freshmen were struggling socially and emotionally to transition to the large school.
To help ease the transition, that group of 50 students goes into classes and develops lessons to teach the freshmen, as well as work with the students to establish a relationship and support program.
But the group took it up a notch last year after hearing about the #WhyYouMatter project.
“You have the teachers and upperclassmen do a series of lessons to help the students recognize their own self-worth, but also to recognize the self-worth of others,” Bradley said.
For three weeks, they worked on a project to incorporate that message and developed a photo campaign where students, faculty and community members display signs stating the reasons they matter.
“They came to show the kids we are all part of this,” Bradley said. “We all recognize one another’s self-worth.”
The photos, taken by students on yearbook staff, will be displayed in the school for the community to view and potentially displayed in a public area.
The response from students has been positive, Bradley said, adding she was surprised because she thought some might think it too cheesy.
“I do think kids recognize that they struggle sometimes with balance,” Bradley said. “We need to be kind to one another and ourselves. To see what they write is heart-warming.”
Students’ messages range from making people smile to leaving a legacy for their families as the first person to go to college.
“This helps students see their value,” Bradley said. “When we work so closely with the fellows, we try to develop leadership in them, and part of that is inspiring leadership. They want to inspire these freshmen to be better people. We want the whole school to know we love them.”
Seniors Chloe Sparwath and Chase Colson are two of the fellows who have been involved with the project.
Colson said the #WhyYouMatter campaign was motivated after the school had two suicides last year.
“A lot of students felt helpless in our school,” Colson said. “That was due to the school atmosphere. This program was founded to change that, connect with students and let them know they do have someone they can talk to and they’re not alone.”
Sparwath anticipates the program will take off and have a positive impact.
“It’s hard to tell freshmen students to talk about their feelings at first with people they don’t know,” Sparwath said. “But once we started going with it, and had kids tell others why they mattered, it was interesting to see how they were more willing to open up to that. It’s going to go somewhere.”