Beyond Bitter Election, Students Affirm Culture of Caring

Freshmen Jasmine Minor, Javont Hackett and Carter McCoy said they appreciated the banners. Jasmine said it shows “how much we support our school when we come together as one”

Being a Trump or Hillary supporter is one thing; being a Northview Wildcat is quite another.

Student leaders at Northview High School have made that message loud and clear, with acts of unity, thanks and giving in the wake of an ugly and divisive election.

This week they decorated their hallways with bright banners thanking more than 100 teachers and staff, and presented them with cupcakes and flowers. They also decorated more than 10,000 lunch sacks and collected a bus-full of food for Kids’ Food Basket, which provides sack suppers to nearly 6,000 children in greater Grand Rapids.

Related Story: Easing Fears and Teaching Respect
For many students, the election of Donald Trump as president provoked fear and uncertainty, especially in schools with large immigrant and Muslim populations. For others it was cause for celebration, though fraught with deep divisions between fellow students who felt otherwise.

Everybody Get Together

Students Iris Johnson and Eric Pearson read the following statement over the intercom to the Northview High School student body:

At Northview we value and accept everyone no matter what. As young adults we tend to hear that quite often these days. But we (your peers) would really like to emphasize how true it really is. No matter your political views, personal preferences, or anything else that makes us as individuals unique, the atmosphere here at Northview is one that we try to base solely on love and acceptance. As we continue on in the coming months try and remember how true this is. And even if it might sound cheesy think about how great it would be if we all tried and valued one another.

Those acts of kindness followed a statement of acceptance and respect, given by two student leaders on Veterans Day, as an affirmation of Northview’s caring culture regardless of political partisanship.

“No matter your political views, personal preferences, or anything else that makes us as individuals unique, the atmosphere here at Northview is one that we try to base solely on love and acceptance,” the students read over the school intercom at the invitation of Principal Mark Thomas.

Seniors Iris Johnson and Eric Pearson were too young to vote, but felt they could say something constructive about the outcome — which divided many classmates along with the rest of the country.

“We wanted people to understand we should be coming together,” said Iris, student council president and student representative on the school board. “No matter what, we’re accepting and we value everybody.”

Eric, president of the National Honor Society, said there was “some obvious tension” between Clinton and Trump supporters at school. But it should be secondary to the main mission of Northview, he said.

“If it interferes with learning, it’s not where it belongs,” Eric said. “Just accept your fellow Northview Wildcat.”

Iris Johnson and Eric Pearson with four of the more than 10,000 bags students decorated for Kids’ Food Basket

Thankful for School Family

Thomas said he made the invitation in response to a highly unusual election, which generated strong feelings in a school reflecting the larger society.

“We’ve never seen anything like this,” Thomas said of the election. “There were just a lot of raw emotions.” The students’ conciliatory statement, he said, is “trying to reinforce culture. It’s trying to remind people” of Northview’s values emphasizing mutual support despite disagreements.

Those values go beyond acceptance, Iris said, to taking pride in Northview’s “family-like feel” and being thankful for everyone in that family.

“We want everyone to feel that every single one of us is welcome in this building,” Iris said firmly. “With Thanksgiving coming up, I want everyone to know that.”

Student council members showed their thanks to teachers by personally presenting them with cupcakes, made by student council adviser Julie Haveman, along with flowers in Mason jars and thank-you notes. They also made 22 posters, which greeted staff members with messages of gratitude when they arrived Monday morning.

“I want them to know just how much their job means to us throughout the day, and to our learning experience,” said Iris, noting posters also thanked fellow students.

Thanks went hand-in-hand with giving, as National Honor Society students led a competition to see which grade level could decorate the most lunch bags for Kids’ Food Basket. The seniors won, earning them a gaudy “spirit cup” that will be proudly displayed at school.

Senior Kelly Keen, coordinator of the Kids’ Food Basket project, spearheaded the effort that saw students coming into NHS adviser Chris Atchison’s office looking for more bags to decorate. Their motto was “10,000 bags equals 10,000 smiles.”

Senior Kelly Keen led the effort to have students decorate supper sacks for Kids’ Food basket
Senior Kelly Keen led the effort to have students decorate supper sacks for Kids’ Food basket

‘Hey, Color This!’

Eric Pearson, the NHS president, said the “brown-bag war” was a more constructive kind of competition than the election had been.

“I just threw some bags at people – ‘Hey, color this!’” he joked. Added Iris, “We’re telling kids, you can put your phone down for 25 seconds and decorate three bags.’”

The bags are to be delivered Friday, along with food collected during the annual “Stuff the Bus” event. Students ask shoppers at D&W Fresh Market to pick up items for Kids’ Food Basket then collect them on a bus.

Iris and Eric hope the outpouring of thanks and generosity will continue long after the election noise dies down, and will reinforce their call for love and acceptance.

“I don’t want anyone saying anything that would divide us,” Iris said.

As for those who would criticize, she added, “Bring it at me, I don’t care. I’m going to tell you how much I love you.”

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Charles Honey
Charles Honey is a freelance writer and former columnist for The Grand Rapids Press/ MLive.com. As a reporter for The Press from 1985 to 2009, his beats included Grand Rapids Public Schools, local colleges and education issues. Honey served as editor of The Press’ award-winning Religion section for 15 years. His freelance articles have appeared in Christianity Today magazine and the Aquinas College alumni magazine. Read Charles' full bio.

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