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Posting positivity: Denfeld students share uplifting messages at school

Tywuan Young and Kyley Wolf, both seniors at Denfeld High School, write positive messages to their fellow students on post-in notes Wednesday. The notes are part of an anti-bullying campaign at the school. More than 4,000 notes have been posted. Bob King / rking@duluthnews.com1 / 6
Post-it notes with positive messages spell out "DHS" on the windows in the entryway of Denfeld High School. Bob King / rking@duluthnews.com2 / 6
"Don't tell me the sky's the limit, when there's footprints on the moon" is one of the many positive messages on post-it notes stuck to students' lockers at Denfeld High School. Bob King / rking@duluthnews.com3 / 6
Morgan Ray, a Denfeld senior, carries her sticky post-it notes on her fingertips as she walks from locker to locker at the school Wednesday morning. Bob King / rking@duluthnews.com4 / 6
Post-it notes that had either fallen off or been removed were attached to cardboard, laminated and now hang as a poster in the third floor hallway at Denfeld High School. Bob King / rking@duluthnews.com5 / 6
Maddy White (left), a junior at Denfeld High School, and Morgan Ray, a senior, stick post-it notes with positive messages on students' lockers at the school Wednesday morning. Bob King / rking@duluthnews.com6 / 6

Like little Post-it elves, several Denfeld High School students have begun decorating lockers with hundreds of "pick-me-ups" and inspirational phrases before most others arrive in the morning.

"Clear your mind of can't." "You are beautiful inside and out." "Be the reason someone smiles."

Those phrases are among the roughly 4,000 that have graced school walls, lockers and windows this month. Some have been grouped together and laminated, and some classes have joined the effort.

"Stop the Bullying: Post the Positive" is a project helmed by the student government class Executive Board, but dreamed up by freshman Savanah Turpin, who brought the idea to principal Tonya Sconiers.

"I thought if everybody had a quote or inspirational saying on their locker it would make someone's day," said Turpin, who has struggled with depression and has twice this year sought treatment. Bullying has contributed to her depression, she said.

"Even when you call somebody one name, it can affect their whole day," Turpin said.

Bullying is nothing new, said Ethan Fisher, the teacher in charge of the Executive Board class, but kids are more exposed to it with the onset of cyber-bullying and the prevalence of social media.

"The exec board is always looking for things to do to make a positive impact on their school," Fisher said, and the advent of new Minnesota anti-bullying legislation reinforced the idea.

Hundreds of Post-its arranged into "2015" and "DHS," among other phrases, are stuck on the main entryway windows and bear the names of every student and staff member. Students can write out their own thoughts to post throughout the school during lunch periods.

"Kids are talking about it ... I think it's definitely had an impact," Fisher said. "My hope is that kids are at least looking for more positive things to say rather than negative."

Senior Tywuan Young had written out about 40 sticky notes Wednesday morning to attach to lockers on his way to class.

He enjoys coming up with messages, he said, "and it makes me have a good start to the day."

The school has received some "bad press," said senior Morgan Ray, including for a recent racist photo incident. The photo of a black student altered to show a noose around his neck was spread through social media this month.

"People aren't surprised it (came from) our school," Ray said, noting it shouldn't be like that. Most Denfeld students know the difference between right and wrong, she said, and things like that photo, fights and bullying are things that can happen at any school. Ray noted that community perception — while not often based in reality — has an effect on students.

"We are the lesser part of town, East is the rich side of town," Ray said, describing an old but pervasive perception. "Everyone thinks Denfeld has the troublemakers because we're poor."

Ray said she knows that's an unfair generalization — one that students try to refute and overcome through morale-boosters like the Post-it project and the upcoming filming of their second annual lip-dub video.

The Post-it project was in the works long before the photo incident, Fisher said, "but any time you have an unfortunate situation, any kind of positive stuff you can do to refocus attention at school is important."

He mentioned signs students made for the boys and girls bathrooms. The boys bathroom has one that says "Looking good today."

"Most signs, we're lucky if they make it up a week," Fisher said. "This has been up two weeks."

Turpin, who said she is no longer being bullied, said big things start in small ways. Holding a Post-it campaign each year would allow for each incoming class to be part of a more positive culture, she said.

The project is meant to help create change, said senior Maddy White, noting students can help build a tighter community by getting involved and improving attitudes.

So when Executive Board students see kids removing Post-its, they remind them of the work that's gone into the project. The students have been renewing their efforts daily, and are determined to keep at it.

"If we keep doing what we're doing, it should help," White said.