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Words to Live By

Julianne Kidder is looking forward to her senior year in the fall, though she remembers well her freshman year at Caledonia High School. 

Senior Hannah Hautala with her postcards

“The freshman experience is supposed to be really fun and exciting,” she said. 

But that first year of high school was abruptly cut short after schools switched to online learning as a result of the state’s stay-home order in response to the coronavirus pandemic. In an attempt to reach out, Julianne and a group of nine other students on the Be Nice Student Leadership team wrote and mailed more than 300 cheerful postcards to the entire freshman class.

“It’s saddening to know that this year’s freshmen had opportunity ripped away from them,” Julianne said. “We all knew it wouldn’t compensate for their losses, but it could help.”

On each postcard, the Be Nice team penned words of encouragement and support. 

“Hey, just dropping you a quick letter of encouragement,” Julianne wrote on one. “Remember to practice self care during this time by being kind to yourself. Hope today is a great day.”

High school counselor Katie Dorband said research indicates that feelings of connection within a community are a protective factor for mental health.

Junior Julianne Kidder with her postcards

The letter-writing project “is a small, cost-effective way to remind students at Caledonia that they are not alone,” she said. 

Though the student team planned a similar activity before the closure of school buildings, the move to distance learning made the activity even more important, Dorband said. 

Julianne said she “loved every second of this project. Writing the postcards was a lot of fun, addressing them was fun and sending them was fun.”

The Be Nice initiative, started by the Mental Health Foundation of West Michigan in 2011, educates students about mental well-being, anti-bullying and the importance of treating one another with civility.

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Hannah Lentz
A 2017 graduate of Grand Valley State University and a lifelong teacher’s kid, Hannah Lentz has worked as a journalist in and outside the Grand Rapids area for more than five years. After serving as editor-in-chief at the GVSU student newspaper, Hannah interned at the Leelanau Enterprise where she learned a lot about community journalism. In addition to her work for School News Network, Hannah has worked as a freelance blogger in the furniture industry, focusing on design trends, and as a social media manager for World Medical Relief in Detroit.

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