After a complicated two years, teachers at Norwich Free Academy had a simple message to share Wednesday. Every NFA teacher and staff member wore a gray t-shirt featuring the same two words: "You Matter."
"This was a way to really control what we wanted to say to our students and that we want them to know that, despite all of these challenges in the pandemic, that they matter," Kari Howard, a school social worker at NFA said.
Howard said it is a challenging time right now. She and her colleagues have seen an increased need for support services at school.
"Everyone is really struggling to get through to the end of this pandemic," Howard said.
The student support team works to address mental health needs on campus daily. They have a team of social workers, counselors, and psychologists.
"We all meet with students regularly, but sometimes it is reactionary. It's not always proactive so we just wanted to do something proactive that could be across campus," Howard said.
The support team ordered more than 300 t-shirts with the phrase, "You Matter" on them. Teachers and staff wore the shirts as a reminder to the students.
"To remind them that you do matter, at a time where it might not feel like it," said Brooke Leone, a school social worker.
The team also made a video featuring voices from the community and even included some of the students' middle school teachers all sharing the same message.
"It was important for them to not just hear the message from their adults at NFA, but from the adults that maybe they worked with in the past," said Leone. "People that were significant from the past to let them know that you matter to us, but you also matter to all of these people."
Hanna Young, a senior at NFA, said she appreciated the gesture.
"It's a phrase that very concisely conveys what they mean," Young said. "I don't think it's a phrase that we hear often."
Ross Blinderman, another student, said the shirts made him think about how he matters.
"It just means so much more than that. There is such a deep message in it," Blinderman said.
While it is a simple message, the social workers at NFA said they picked the phrase because they think it is also powerful and effective.
"We hope it has that impact on the students today," Leone said.