Often, all it takes is a word or two of encouragement to brighten someone’s day.
Matthew Brown, principal of Donna Shepard Intermediate School, has applied this philosophy to his school, in particular to its female students. Given all that is happening in society of late, he thought the time was perfect for a steady vote of confidence.
So Brown, along with some helpful parents, is getting positive messages out to young ladies via mirrors and stall doors in bathrooms and locker rooms.
“I think it is so important that we empower the young ladies of today to see the inner beauty that they possess,” Brown said. “They are told by every social media outlet and advertisement that they should look and act a certain way in order to gain stature. At Donna Shepard, we are trying to send a different message.
“We want our young ladies to put other students first, show integrity, continually improve themselves, build positive relationships and show resiliency in everything they do. We are teaching them that those qualities will serve them long after their education ends.”
The idea came from Brown having heard of this being done at another school. He turned to the school’s Facebook community to help with the project, and the response was overwhelming.
“There were a lot of moms interested in helping and volunteering,” said Tracie Whittler, the parent leading the project. “Having two young ladies myself, I just think any type of inspiration you can give them to be themselves and know that they’re beautiful is amazing.”
Parents have helped with supplies, material printing, even cutting and mounting the artwork.
Brown, who has two daughters of his own, said the project is personal.
“My whole goal in this was to look at what really makes our students beautiful,” he said.
‘Makes me feel confident’
And indeed it seems they are.
“When I walk in the bathrooms and see the positive messages, they make me feel confident and empowered,” said Taylor, a student at Donna Shepard.
“My favorite saying is, ‘Don’t change so people will like you. Be yourself and the right people will love the real you,’ ” said Brooklyn, another student. “This makes me feel like I don’t have to change who I am, makes me feel confident and puts a smile on my face.”
Brown said the positive messages not only make the girls feel happier and better about themselves, it also has a positive academic effect.
“This absolutely carries over into the classroom and other activities like electives,” Brown said. “When you feel confident, you perform with confidence. When you feel beautiful, you carry yourself differently.
“When you know that your friendships are authentic because people see the real you, you smile a little bit more and raise your hand in class a few more times.”
Messages gain momentum
Brown said the idea is already catching on at other schools, with comments on the Mansfield school district social media page about schools wanting to do this on their campuses.
“I would expect that by the end of the year, many schools will have this in place,” he said.
And yes, the boys aren’t being left out. Brown said ideas are being tossed around for their bathrooms and locker rooms, along with messages around the building for all students and staff.
“Honestly, when I reached out, it was for our girls first because that is where we saw the greatest needs. The moms really latched on to the idea for our young ladies,” he said. “We are looking at what messages we are wanting in the boys’ bathrooms and have had a mom of one of our boys contact us about organizing that effort.”
“I am just so thankful to work and live in a place where our parents are so actively involved in our children’s lives,” Brown said.