“Pop.” The lights flashed in West Forsyth High School’s auxiliary gym as senior Natalie Bachner clicked the shutter release.
As students, teachers and administrators filed in and out, stacks of index cards — all reading #whyyoumatter somewhere in the text — began to form in piles on the waxed floor.
The cards, draft statements of what would soon appear on individual whiteboards, emphasized participants’ value to the school, the community and the county as part of West’s #whyyoumatter campaign.
The event, an afternoon-long photo shoot held on Nov. 8, will culminate in a series of printed photos posted around the school later this year, the first in what will hopefully become annual tradition, according to West’s Freshman Fellows Adviser, Samantha Bradley.
“We wanted to have a campaign here at West that really focused on students emotional well-being because that’s such an issue at schools across America,” Bradley said. “There’s really not one thing we can do to fix all of that so we came across this why you matter campaign and it’s really just having students take a second and reflect on why they do matter and what’s important.”
She added once the photo campaign was decided upon during the students’ instructional focus class period, Freshmen Fellow advisers agreed to display the art around the community to “hopefully inspire some of these conversations.”
The fellows program, a mentorship opportunity for juniors and seniors to connect and guide West’s freshman through their first year of high school, largely oversaw the campaign, though journalism teacher Maureen Farry’s yearbook students photographed the participants.
“[The response] has been overwhelming,” Bradley said. “All of the teachers have been super supportive of everything and we had two weeks’ worth of lessons where students reflected why they matter and why other people matter so we had some of those conversations before we did this photo campaign. It’s been phenomenal and we’ve gotten support from the Forsyth County [Schools] central office and our feeder middle schools office as well.”
The student response has also been overwhelming, said seniors Chase Colson and Chloe Sparwath, who are involved in the fellows program.
“I think this campaign is so important because [you have] to give yourself a little bit of encouragement and give yourself some acknowledgement that you are important and you do matter,” Colson said. “It’s really important, especially in high school, and we get lost in our classes and social media and being popular or trying to be cool or trying to fit in. We get lost in this world of outside, materialistic things and we kind of forget that, ‘hey, I’m important, I matter, I have skills and my friends love me,’ things like that.”
He stressed that every student should know he or she has a reason to wake up, get out of bed and make it to school every morning.
“I think it’s important to remember those things, that you do matter and that you do have a purpose and people do care about you,” he said.
Sparwath said the campaign, in part, also attempted to shed light on some of the darker issues West’s community has recently dealt with, specifically the passing of two students who died by suicide last year.
“It was a tough [year] and that’s why this is so important,” Sparwath said. “We are such a huge school and especially for freshmen, it’s so easy to get lost in this big sea of people and kind of start feeling like you’re drowning a little bit. It’s nice just to have a reminder that you do have a purpose and people do care about you.”
While the process didn’t go completely smoothly — Sparwath said it was a little difficult at first to get students to open up to their peers — it was ultimately a success, students, teachers and administrators agreed.
“It was really beautiful when there was a moment after we said, ‘why don’t you tell your friends why you matter,’ and all of a sudden, people did just started talking and saying, ‘I appreciate you,’” Sparwath said. “You could tell there was still that, ‘oh gosh, I’m still a little embarrassed, I’m in front of all of my classmates,’ but you could see that it was starting to make [students] happy. It’s changing things.”