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‘You got this’

Students write about their joys, struggles and more on 'Speak Wall'


The words on notecards whisper, shout, cheer and cry off the wall.

“Didn’t get into Western.”

“My life isn’t really great at the moment. I’m struggling with trust between my mother and I. I am currently going through a break-up and am having a hard time figuring out who I am.”

“My life is great, but sometimes I wish I had a friend to share the good and bad moments of my life.”

“I am thankful for family.”

“I’m losing the roots of my culture. I’m stuck between a deep, traditional Hispanic culture and the American culture. Can’t really carry a conversation with my grandparents. Makes me sad… I’ll try speaking English and forget a word, then replace it with the Spanish words.”

Responses on sticky notes are posted on top of the note cards.

“All your friends are there for you. Don’t worry about being judged because you are perfect the way you are. Keep fighting!”

“Hey, it’s okay. If you ever need to talk call or text me @ __”

“You got this. Keep pushing through…”

“Stay strong and true to yourself, then you’ll be successful.”

Words of thankfulness are among notes about struggles (courtesy photo)

In the hallway at Wyoming High School, students and staff created a Speak Wall, a collaborative board where students anonymously wrote about their struggles, joys, fears and gratitude. In the center of the wall, the words “I want to see you be brave” sum up the purpose of the wall: put yourself out there and tell your story.

In response to notes left on the wall, passersby left messages of encouragement, even reaching out with their phone numbers to those who appear to need a friend.

Sophomore Briayja White helped create and contribute to the wall in Alpha Leadership, an after-school club. “Every now and then I’ll go to look at it,” she said. She’s noticed students are posting things that they might not share openly.

“Everyone has their own problems, so don’t judge people by their appearance because you never know,” she said. “It’s very shocking my peers are going through this stuff and I had no idea.”

Sophomore Diego Quintino posted notes and affirmations. “The experience was interesting to see how many people responded in a positive way to my notes, and also to see how many people are struggling.”

Many students take time to read and reflect on what is written (courtesy photo)

A Way to Speak Out, Reach Out

Student advocate Mark Kuiper got the idea to create the wall from a similar project completed when he was a staff member at Grand Rapids Christian High School.

“I just thought this was a really unique way of getting kids to talk about their pains and struggles, but also their joys and thankfulness,” he said. “The idea is to start the process of being vulnerable and putting yourself out there—big or small.”

Students in Alpha Leadership monitored the wall, keeping track of messages and removing any inappropriate responses. They, and other students in leadership roles, started posting on it, which sparked momentum.

“My big thing was I don’t ever want to walk by and see a notecard that doesn’t have a sticky note on it,” said Kuiper, who plans to use common themes he’s noticed on the wall to start dialogue with students. “We hope it creates momentum into sharing our stories …. We hope it creates conversation that is face to face.”

Students face ups and downs and various struggles. “In my opinion, it’s a great thing for kids to be able to put their thoughts out in a way that’s anonymous,” Kuiper said. “The hope is (that) they are able to take the next step in being brave and talking to someone.”

Kuiper works with social studies teacher John Doyle each semester to plan a celebration to honor students with Alpha Wolf 11 awards. Students are named Alpha Wolves for demonstrating kindness, graciousness and compassion. The theme of this spring’s ceremony was “Student Voice—Be Brave!” and was almost completely led by students. The Speak Wall served as the centerpiece for the ceremony, with activities built around it.

“It was probably one of the most powerful things I’ve ever seen to be able to have the kids participate and express their emotions of gratitude, sympathy,” Doyle said. “It’s really great to see student voice exposed the way we exposed it. Student voice is so important today.”

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SNN article: When kindness and compassion trumps grades, touchdowns

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Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese is associate managing editor and reporter, covering Byron Center, Kentwood, Wyoming and Grand Rapids Community College. She was one of the original SNN staff writers, helping launch the site in 2013 and enjoys fulfilling the mission of sharing the stories of public education. She has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers, On-the-Town Magazine and Group Tour Media. Read Erin's full bio or email Erin.

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