In an increasingly competitive and globalized world kids are under more pressure than ever to achieve high test scores and be the best at what they do, often resulting in higher levels of stress and lower self-confidence. Halsey wanted to do something about it.
“The decals are all different,” Halsey said. “One of my favorites says, “Just be yourself. Let people see the real, imperfect, flawed, quirky, weird, beautiful, and magical person that you are.’” Halsey has one child in kindergarten at Henry Harris Elementary School and a high school student at Saint Peter’s Prep. Other encouraging messages on school walls include, “Lead, don’t follow,” “Be a voice, not an echo,” and “Be somebody who makes everybody feel like a somebody.”
Beneath the platitudes is a genuine concern among parents for students’ wellbeing. “These kids going to school are so unsure of everything,” Halsey said. “Some of their peers can be pretty mean, and they don’t feel like they’re pretty, and they don’t feel like they’re good enough.”
She went on, “They always feel like they’re in competition with everybody else. They don’t have to be. Their only competition is themselves. It’s more stressful than it needs to be.”
“They always feel like they’re in competition with everybody else. They don’t have to be. Their only competition is themselves.” – Michelle Halsey
Halsey started the project at Lincoln Community School. After positive feedback from the Parent Teacher Organization and school administration, she is now planning to extend the project to Henry Harris, Mary J. Donohue, Vroom, and Woodrow Wilson schools.
The decals are now stuck to hallway walls, inside bathrooms, and wherever kids will see them.
“The bathrooms in the schools are very dreary places,” Halsey said. “The first place to go when a girl is upset is the bathroom. She’ll walk in and get to see these messages.”
“I’ve noticed the amount of anxiety that kids go through today. It’s real,” said Lincoln Community School Principal Keith Makowski, who noted standardized testing’s role in creating stressful atmospheres for students.
“There’s an expectation level that we’re looking for every student to reach, but not every student is built to reach a particular score,” he said. “Our goal was to have every student do their very best, but now everything is associated with a number. We have to realize there are other things going on in kids’ thought processes and everyday life.”
He continued, “We just want them to have a good environment and want to be here, and I’m really hoping that these decals will impact the school climate in a positive way and that the kids really enjoy it and start to change, even become better students and people.”
“I want to make it a happier place and let them know that no matter what they’re doing, if they don’t quit, they will succeed,” Halsey said. “They should be accepted no matter who they are.”
Rory Pasquariello can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.