Leanne Hudson will change the world for the good. That’s not a prediction. It’s fact. She’s already started.
Her classmates at Annapolis West Education Centre know that. Sociology 12 teacher Heather Hiscock has no doubt about it. Principal Bill Reid already sees it.
All heads turn to Leanne when the question of who to interview comes up. She’s articulate, informed, and wise beyond her years. But there’s something about this entire tiny group of students. They know how kindness works and how positive words link people together.
Negative words and insults disconnect people and cause isolation.
Lauren Longmire is also already improving the world right alongside Leanne. And so are Hallie Ellis, and Jordan Barteaux, Sara Abel, and Judy Vantassel. The small Sociology 12 class at AWEC embraced Ms. Hiscock’s idea to make the world a better place – starting now.
“We’ve focused this semester on a positive language campaign because we are trying to create safe spaces that don’t use hate language or make anybody feel bullied or feel like they have to wear armour to come to school -- to be here,” Ms. Hiscock said. “We’ve done a lot of things to promote and to really encourage positivity happening within our school.”
Mr. Reid walks through the school pointing at the new ‘Welcome to AWEC’ sign, inspiring words and messages written on windows, the chalkboard wall that continually changes with new words. Ms. Hiscock calls it the Wall of Positivity.
During Education Week her Sociology 12 students conducted kindness workshops with the middle level students to talk about how kindness connects us all and when we’re unkind how the bonds break down and what it does to people.
“Last week we decided to really bring home that idea of being positive and welcoming to everyone by turning our crosswalk into a rainbow crosswalk,” she said, “to let everyone know you all belong here and you’re welcome here.”
“This whole class has been a really eye-opening experience because we’ve taken a whole different spin on sociology and the effects within our school community and within our broader Annapolis Community” Leanne said, “and we’ve had the opportunity to reach many different audiences but also include different people and make them feel included in our everyday school life.”
Leanne admits that students feel the pressure of what’s going on in the world and on social media.
“Yeah, for sure. I think everyone does to a certain degree and everyone is impacted by what’s around us,” she said. “Sometimes that’s a negative impact, but it can also be positive as well.”
She said social media is often not positive at school or at home.
“We’ve tried to remedy that but that’s something that’s a much larger global issue and something that this one semester program isn’t really designed to fix by any means,” she said, “but we’ve definitely tried to promote how we can be kind in person -- but also through social media”
The messages on the windows and walls were things the students came up with.
“We just kind of thought of things that we’d like to hear,” said Lauren. “Things that we want other people to think and we kind of posted them everywhere. We want a positive impact, obviously. We don’t want anyone to feel like it’s not something they want to hear. We kind of went off of ‘oh this is something our school could benefit from.’”
“We did kindness webs,” Lauren said. “So someone takes a ball of yarn and throws it across with a kind message and you create a web and everyone is connected. At the end we cut it with negative connotations to show them how those negative words will impact their relationships with everyone else.”
She said it was about showing those younger students how important it is to be kind.
“It was just kind of a shock when we cut it,” Lauren said. “They were like ‘why are you cutting that?’ They knew we were going to cut it but they didn’t realize how big of an impact it actually was.”
Ellis liked seeing how what they were doing as a class was affecting other students and how they reacted to it.
“Before I never saw that in this school,” she said, noting there was negativity that may have been hurtful. “I don’t like seeing other people sad. Once we started doing the positivity campaign, the board, and the crosswalk we started getting a lot of positive reviews. A lot of people are saying they really like it and it’s actually helped them through their school day.”
Jordan was part of the crew painting the crosswalk.
“I guess it kind of felt nice to make sure that everyone was feeling welcomed when they entered the school. It felt nice to be a part of that,” he said. “I’d like to think I was positive before, but I think it’s opened my eyes a bit more to what’s happening around the school. It makes me more aware I guess.”
He believes there is always room for improvement when it comes to being positive.
“Wherever there’s negativity there can be positivity,” he said. “You definitely see the kids that are typically more positive are more willing to help out with stuff because they want to spread it. People want it to be a more positive place and I think some people are working at it. You just need to keep working at it I guess.”
Judy believes the school has become a better place.
“In my opinion yes, because of all the positive campaigns we’ve done,” she said. “It definitely has shed some light on situations that were a little rocky before. I remember we had written down some really positive comments on windows around the school and people were taking pictures of it and putting it on social media, and they’re like ‘wow, this is great.’ There was a different feeling in the air. So I can definitely say there has been a change.”
“I think we’ve really created a positive climate,” said Ms. Hiscock. “The culture has really changed within the school and acceptance is definitely here where before there were snide comments that seemed to just breed more of those kinds of comment and discontent.”
She said she can see students becoming engaged.
“Not just certain students anymore,” she said. “We’re seeing the whole school culture change. We’re now seeing that other students are wanting to become involved. When we were painting the crosswalk last week middle level students came to help, we had other Grade 12 students. People just want to be a part of it. We’re just seeing the momentum continuing – ‘how can I help?’ ‘what can I do for you next?’ That’s what we want.”
“They’re realizing I think, recognizing what’s going on in the world,” said Mr. Reid. “There’s a huge need and hunger for the positive side of what society can do, and every student in this class is a leader.”
He said Ms. Hiscock’s Sociology 12 students are leaders of tomorrow and they’re starting today. “They’re trying to make the school more inclusive and our whole society more inclusive,” Mr. Reid said. “School is a subset of the world and therefore I think we need to have leaders and have opportunities.”
Ms. Hiscock summed it up.
“If this is what we have coming up, the future looks great,” she said of her half dozen students. “These are the type of students we want out there and in leading roles helping with society and just helping improve culture. They have really understood where things are and what we need to do to grow.”