MERIDIAN — Cato-Meridian High School Principal Danielle Mahoney said the school's hallways were choked with wall-to-wall smiles Tuesday.
The smiles are a part of a series of challenges to staff and students alike that will be made over 17 days, the first day was Monday. The challenges, all of which involve showing kindness and positivity toward themselves and others, were created after the school district went into a lockdown last Thursday.
Mahoney said district superintendent Terry Ward wondered about ways faculty could make students feel "safe and loved" following the lockdown. On Friday — school was canceled due to weather — Mahoney, school counselor Cheryl Sawyer and school psychologist Karen Carbone brainstormed ways to kick start a positive atmosphere for those who walked into the building Monday.
The trio were inspired by a viral social media post concerning a teacher talking to her students about ways they could honor the 17 victims of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida, last month, involving the hashtag #whatsyour17.
Sawyer came up with challenges for students and staff to demonstrate postivity to themselves and others, with a different challenge announced each day for 17 days. The challenges are meant to acknowledge the Parkland victims while allowing students and staff to interact with each other in positive ways. For example, Mahoney said Tuesday's challenge involved staff and students smiling at 17 people.
Mahoney said students flashed their pearly whites throughout the day, reaching out to others that they might not interacted with under normal circumstances.
"I've seen students smiling that I've never seen smile," Mahoney said.
Mahoney said, Sawyer and Carbone also spent the weekend writing encouraging messages such as 'be brave!" "Be resilient!,", Be you!," etc. on Post-it notes, with one note for all 1,004 lockers.
Mahoney said students in one particular row put their notes on one student's locker. That student appreciated the extra messages, she added.
Sawyer said she noticed at the end of school Monday afternoon that some students had their notes in hand as they left the building instead of throwing them away, which she believes shows the messages resonated with them. She said she feels good about the 17-day campaign so far.
"Instead of going through the routine of the day, it just has added a little extra awareness and energy (to the day)," Sawyer said.
The school went into lockdown in response to more than 20 bullets being found in a student's locker that day. Authorities determined the incident was an accident, according to a press release on the Cayuga County Sheriff's Office