By Alexis Mercer
Painting fire hydrants, sealing fences, cleaning up the cemetery, picking up trash from acres of land, promoting inclusivity, and spreading joy and kindness to all was the curriculum of the day for Newaygo High School students on Thursday, April 25, 2019.
The day of service originally started four years ago as a three day celebration and break from a normal class schedule to bring awareness to bullying and promote social kindness and togetherness. Since the inception of the concept, the theme and activities have evolved into a multi-purpose single day event for students and staff of NHS.
All students and staff met in the gymnasium first thing on Thursday morning to cheer on the participants of the floor hockey and soccer games. This activity is part of what NHS does each year for its involvement with the Special Olympics. In addition to the multiple Special Olympics events held at NHS each year, Special Education students from Newaygo participated in the games to display unity and inclusion.
After the intense matches, with students in the stands cheering energetically and enthusiastically for both the Titans and Spartans, two morning sessions took place. Juniors and freshmen went to the cafeteria to hear a presentation from the be nice. leadership team about mental health awareness. This is the continuation of a years long project led by staff member Erica Boyd to break the stigma that comes with mental health.
"be nice. is a mental health education, bully and suicide prevention initiative that creates a positive cultural change through simple daily actions." Students watched a short video reminding them of the steps of the program and encouraging students to reach out when they see someone who displays behavior unlike their normal actions for two weeks or longer. [For more information, visit the West Michigan be nice. website: https://www.benice.org/be-nice ]
The next step for juniors and freshmen was to break out into classroom activities of their choosing, including things like juggling, board games, card games, movies and reading. Additionally, school officer Mitch Rood took a group of students out to the parking lot and had them participate in "Ford's Strive 4 a Safer Drive (S4SD)", where they donned glasses of impairment (alcohol and drugs) and attempted to safely navigate a course of cones while driving golf carts loaned by Smart Energy out of Grant.
Meanwhile, seniors and sophomores set out into the community to serve. The City of Newaygo and Ron Wight worked closely with NHS's Theresa Westcott and Laurie Gracik to identify areas in need of cleanup and repair. City workers provided water and supplies while the students and staff provided their endless energy and commitment to making the world a better place starting with our town.
The afternoon sessions flip flopped the morning schedule with fresh hands for serving and fresh minds for learning.
While the activities only took place one day out of the year, the enthusiasm for the themes of kindness, service and inclusivity last much longer. This day makes an impact on students and staff alike. "The high school coming together and accepting everyone's unique differences is the greatest part of this day," said Theresa Westcott, one of the main leaders and organizers of the event.