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As Tabb Middle School students headed to their first class of the day on a typical Monday morning three weeks ago, students were stunned to see their orange-coated Tiger pride hallways littered with offensive remarks, such as “You are stupid” and “You are ugly.”
On purpose and by design, the shock factor had some students asking teachers and staff to take the banners down with many ready for an explanation.
Called Project BeYOUtiful, the banners hung in the school with negative phrases on them were part of the Builders Club’s efforts to bring students together and replace bad with good.
“It helped them realize the gravity of their words,” Tabb Principal Heather Young said.
Each banner, made of small 4-inch canvas tiles, represented phrases students often say about themselves, called negative self-talk.
Each student and staff member was able to strip those phrases from the walls tile by tile, and each tile was transformed into their own expression of positivity, hope or acceptance.
Under the tiles was a message showing students and staff a first glimpse into the transformation of negative into positive. You are stupid turned into you are intelligent, and you are ugly turned into you are beautiful.
Then, students and staff took to their own transformation, painting directly over the negative messages on their own tile.
As more than 900 tiles collided to create a mural in the cafeteria, the new canvas is essentially a living expression of Tabb Middle School. As eighth-graders move on to high school, they will take their tiles with them, and the newest group of sixth-graders will fill the empty spots.
The Builders Club, a service group at Tabb and an offshoot of the international service club Kiwanis, used a first-year grant from York Foundation for Public Education – the Nancy Core Middle School Memorial Collaboration Grant – to fund the project.
Laura Shaske, seventh-grade math teacher and sponsor for the Builders Club, art teacher Donna Aliff and seventh-grade guidance counselor Dana Rollins helped facilitate the project.
Shaske said the club wanted to create something that included all students and staff and be able to include new students while bringing the school together. The mural was it.
Sixth-grader Brielle Boyd said when new students come to the school they will know there is a place where everyone respects them.
“It shows one negative message doesn’t compare to all the thousands of positive messages we made,” eighth-grader Felicity Kaanapu said.
Young said middle school is a pivotal time in a student’s life and they essentially decide what path to take in life as responsibilities grow along with stress.
“We really want kids to be more positive to themselves,” Young said.
Eighth-grader Alyssa Brown said the project’s message rings true.
“I feel like there are a lot of people who feel negative about themselves. I think the positive messages may have helped them feel better about themselves,” Brown said.
Kaanapu’s tile has a painting of a cow and “other weird pictures,” which she said represents her
uniqueness in expressing who she is and is displayed through the phrases: “You complete my weirdness,” “You are worth everything” and “You’re worth fighting for.”
“This project is bringing you up and making it positive,” said eighth-grader Tahlia Sloan, whose tile expressed the phrase “Let your smile change the world.”
Eighth-grader Alexis Guye said her tile encourages people to keep moving forward even in the midst of negative messages and look to the positive.
Other tiles expressed “Let your light shine,” “The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are” and a handful carrying the popular expression ‘hakuna matata,’ a Swahili phrase meaning roughly “no worries” and the focus of a song from Disney’s The Lion King.
Shaske said the club is also working on a school-wide newspaper to highlight thoughts and quotes from various interviews and feedback about the project.
“It’s so symbolic and a reminder for kids to remember there are always going to be negatives and how they deal with those negatives is going to make or break who they are,” Shaske said.