West Tisbury School students accentuate the positive in anti-bullying project

A rainbow of inspirational messages brightened the halls, classrooms, and offices at West Tisbury School last week. — Courtesy of Lisa Magnarelli-Magd

A colorful array of sticky-backed notes decked the halls and classrooms at West Tisbury School on Tuesday last week, the day before the start of Thanksgiving vacation. The pre-holiday display featured positive messages for everyone, not only students but also administrators, teachers, and custodial, office and cafeteria staff.

The idea sprang from anti-bullying presentations held in the fall in grades 6-8 classrooms, art teacher Lisa Magnarelli-Magden told The Times in a phone conversation Monday. Inspired by the discussions, eighth-graders Kayla Oliver and Amanda Pachico asked school administrators if they could devote their enrichment period to doing some kind of anti-bullying project.

At the West Tisbury School all middle school students in in grades 6-8 take part in an enrichment period that lasts 30 minutes each day. The topic changes every four to six weeks.

Principal Donna Lowell-Bettencourt gave Kayla and Amanda the go-ahead and told them to pick a teacher as their advisor. They enlisted Ms. Magnarelli-Magden and school nurse Kristine Cammorata to help them decide on a project. Then the four of them, plus school administrators, brainstormed ideas that included performing skits, involving high school students in presentations, and making a video.

“Then we thought, what if we did something to change the culture of the school?” Ms. Magnarelli-Magden said. “If you talk about the culture of the school, of course the push is towards an anti-bullying culture. But as we talked, we got to thinking, what if we had the kind of culture in our school where that’s not an issue, where we build people up, support them, and let them know how wonderful they are?”

And out of that discussion, she said, Kayla came up with the idea of the note campaign with a positive self-esteem theme rather than just anti-bullying messages, based on something similar she saw on YouTube.

Kayla and Amanda decided they would like to get the messages out to everyone in the school. With Ms. Magnarelli-Magden’s and Ms. Cammorata’s help, the girls looked online for short, positive messages and hand-wrote them at least 500 notes.

“You matter; Be who you are; You are a bright idea,” some read. Ms. Cammorata suggested using symbols such as hearts, peace signs, and smiley faces for preschool and kindergarten students.

“Everyone in the school received a note with a positive message on it that day,” Ms. Magnarelli-Magden said. ” A lot of the kids and teachers wore their notes around all day, on their shirts.”

The girls enlisted the aid of Project Headway preschool teachers and grade K-5 teachers to write notes for their students and put them on their desks. Middle school students found several notes posted on each of their lockers. Teachers, administrators, and office staff received notes on their desks, and custodians and the cafeteria staff in their workplaces.

“It was a great project, and I love that it was kid-driven,” Ms. Magnarelli-Magden said. “Kayla and Amanda worked hard and did such a nice job. They were totally into it.”