After receiving alarming survey results about teen mental health, a high school in southern Maine is going the extra mile to make every student feel special.
Friday morning at Sanford High School, every student entering the building was greeted by cheers, high fives, smiles and hugs. Teachers and community members woke up early to make sure every kid had a warm welcome before the start of school. Some held signs that said "You Matter" and "#Appreciated."
"I like seeing the students' faces," said teacher Amy Turgeon. "Seeing their expressions when they see how much love we have for them."
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The morning surprise comes after the release of the state-wide Maine Integrated Youth Health Survey, conducted by the Department of Health and Human Services and Department of Education.
According to Sanford High School counselor Beth Letourneau, 49 percent of Sanford youth between ages 12 and 18 reported that they did not feel like they mattered to the community. Twenty percent said they had suicidal thoughts in the previous month.
"It made me sad," said Letourneau. "I knew that they felt that way, but it wasn't true. Our community cares, and we wanted to show them in a tangible way that they do care."
Letourneau and her Sanford High School Peer Helpers student group decided to do something about it. They, along with the group Stronger Sanford, helped organize the Friday morning demonstration, which they called #ThisIsUs.
"I think it's awesome," said student Alice Nolin.
"It helps bring the community together, which is something really needed in Sanford," said student Sam Chapdelaine.
The morning greeting wasn't the only surprise for students. Inside the cafeteria, a giant banner is hanging with every student's name on it. Beside each name, a teacher has written a compliment.
"I was very flattered," said student Danielle Guillemett. Next to her name was the word "compassionate."
"I was really surprised that someone thought that of me," said student Megan Roy, who had the word "intuitive" written next to her name.
She said the Friday morning events made a big difference at school.
"I think it will be a much more positive environment," Roy said. "We're all kind of just excited and happy now."
SUICIDE PREVENTION: If you know someone who needs help, you can contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline by calling 1-800-273-TALK (8255).