Marsha Chartrand

#WhyYouMatter event held at Manchester Middle School

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Students wrote on a strip of paper their wish for our community, and then all the papers were attached to a large "M" that will be placed in front of the building.

Students wrote on a strip of paper their wish for our community, and then all the papers were attached to a large “M” that will be placed in front of the building.

Social media. Advertising. Politics. Bullying.

Our children and youth are faced with negative, contradictory images and messages on a daily basis. Such messages often can make kids feel inadequate or lacking in some way. It’s a big and confusing world out there, and as kids struggle to find their way, it’s hard for them to think positively about themselves.

The #WhyYouMatter campaign was created in Chelsea in response to three losses of high school students in a short amount of time–two from suicide and another from an automobile accident. It was imported to Manchester Middle School by teachers and Student Council advisers Terri Punches and Laura Angel, to give our middle-school aged students an opportunity to determine for themselves “Why I Matter,” and expose them to positive messages rather than the pervasive negativity that is so often part of their lives.

The day’s events at were based on an idea created by Chelsea High School art teachers Geo Rutherford and Laura Naar, along with their students to launch a proactive, meaningful campaign to help build positive self-images within their student body. After seeing quite a few Facebook posts about the program,, Angel contacted CHS principal Mike Kapolka and learned that the idea was indeed available for anyone to use.

On Friday, the last day of the semester, the entire half-day of school was dedicated to this activity, with students on a rotating schedule of stations–all designed to energize and encourage them.

In the gym, dodge ball, led by Sandi Fillyaw, got the kids involved in a large group activity; while in the cafeteria, Laura Angel directed the kids in creating pillowcases for the troops as well as a community project. Heidi Huber-Stein and Lindsay Hannah were in the band room, providing a mini-lesson on #WhyYouMatter, where students shared reasons why they mattered to others as well as why their friends make a difference to them.

“These thoughts are not easily expressed, because we are overly concerned with what others may think, especially in the Middle School years,” said Angel. “This project is just the start of many meaningful discussions to help the students and staff come together for a common goal to feel supported, valued, and respected for who we really are inside and out, because we all matter.”

Part of Stein and Hannah’s power point presentation focused on how to journal their thoughts, and positive things to remember about their relevance to others.

  • Your life affects many other people’s lives
  • You are important to very specific people
  • You are somebody’s baby
  • You have great things to do, now and in the future
  • Our class wouldn’t be the same if you weren’t here
  • Inside of you is the potential to do so much good

“As the school counselor, I was thrilled to hear about this project,” Stein said. “Being able to facilitate students reflecting on their self-worth was such a privilege. We all will do more for ourselves and connect better with others when we truly value ourselves. Through the process of brainstorming and sharing why our students matter, both staff and students have been able to learn more about each other. Another benefit of the project has been a raised awareness for students that are currently struggling and may need support.”

One of the fun parts of the day included every student creating a white-board sign with a statement that says why they matter to others. The reasons ranged from funny to serious, but all were meaningful. Mary Bortmas of Unforgettable Photos donated her time to photograph each student with their sign, and these will be turned into posters to be placed around the school.

“We plan to hang the #WhyYouMatter pictures of each student and staff member around our building so students can walk in and see not only why they personally matter, but how we all complement each other as a school community,” said Punches. “At the end of the year, we will send the pictures home with the students.”

Angel added that once the posters are printed they will be displayed in the hallways of MMS and there will also be a special evening event for the community to come and view these amazing works of art.

According to Middle School Principal Jennifer Mayes, Angel was the staff member who spearheaded this effort.

“One night a few weeks ago I was working out and she just started blowing up my phone with these messages about this project that she learned about in Chelsea,” Mayes said with a laugh. “But I realized right away how valuable this would be to our school and the entire community. I gave her my blessing and she and Terri just ran with it and pulled in the Student Council to help engage all the kids in the project.”

“This project is near and dear to my heart,” Angel said. “It allowed students to dig deep inside themselves and really think about why they matter to others and to themselves. I know our students and teachers put a lot of thought into their responses. I feel it pushed all of us to do some self-searching.

“Our students and staff stepped out of their comfort zone to write a heartfelt/ meaningful statement and then be photographed to openly share with others.”

May this be just the beginning of an ongoing effort to bring positive messages to our youth and to the community at large.

Middle School students created pillowcases to send to the troops as a way to show what matters to them.

Middle School students created pillowcases to send to the troops as a way to show what matters to them.

Parker Tungate's message to the world, #WhyIMatter "Because I naturally love people. P.S I'm funny I guess."

Mary Bortmas photographs Parker Tungate’s message to the world for #WhyIMatter, “Because I naturally love people. P.S I’m funny I guess.”

Heidi Huber-Stein brought a message of encouragement to the students.

Heidi Huber-Stein brought a message of encouragement, and a reminder that everyone matters, to the students.


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