The walls of the Tempe Academy of International Studies gymnasium and workout room are a colorful surprise to school visitors. Many wonder why there are large posters covered with bright post-it notes. You may even catch a student adding a note to the wall or simply reading the post-it notes, with shy smiles growing across their face. To a visitor, this may seem unusual; but to students, this is part of their daily routine.
Coach Mark Aralica and his students call this the “Make A Difference Project,” something that has grown into the school culture and plays a large part in the positive school environment at Tempe Academy of International Studies.
“It was simply an idea,” Aralica said. “I thought to myself, ‘Our kids are doing so many great things and I wanted an outlet for students, staff, parents and visitors to read about all the great things they are doing – big and small.’”
The “Make A Difference Project” started last fall. Aralica pitched it to the students, like he does with many other ideas. He put a poster on the wall and challenged students to write down the nice things they do on a daily basis and put them on the wall for their colleagues to read. Aralica said he was inspired by the movie “Pay it Forward.”
However, this project was different than the others. Aralica explained, “I threw this one out to the kids and it took off like wild fire.”
Here is how it works: students come to Aralica’s class each day and have a choice. They can stop at the table outside the room, covered with blank post-it notes and write down something nice they recently did, and post on the wall, or they can go sit down and begin their warm-up. There is no obligation to put a note up, but students campus-wide want to participate.
“We started with one poster and it filled up within two to three days. The students want more and more space around the gym to put up notes,”Aralica said. “I will keep adding until we run out of nice things we’ve done… but it doesn’t look like that is going to happen.”
Aralica also explained that parents can’t help but turn to look at the vividly colored walls while on tours. He explained that they are instantly drawn to the bright colors and sheer number of post-its that decorate the wall. Once they learn what it is, they are “all smiles” and think the project is very unique.
“At this age, it can be difficult to be nice and kind to others because of peer pressure,”Aralica said. “‘The Make A Difference Project’ has created an outlet for students and teachers to share the nice things they have done. But even some of the kids who are not the most well-behaved really think about something good they did to put on the wall.”
Here is what the students had to say about the wall…
“When this started, it was just one piece of paper and we were told to write down nice things we did on a sticky note and put it up on the wall. It started getting bigger and bigger, and it helped us realize how much good we put into the world. Now, we all work hard to make the world a better place.”
“It doesn’t have to be something large, like helping someone across the street. It can be as small as giving someone a nice compliment.”
“It has had a big impact on everyone at Tempe Academy because it helps us realize that it truly is a judgment-free zone.”
“I think the Make A Difference Project is helping people be nicer. People are helping each other out, being friendly, welcoming new people to the school, etc.”
“When we see that other people are doing something, we want to be like them – it’s the culture of our day. So when someone does something nice and I see them put a sticky on the wall, it inspires me to do something nice so that I can put a note up on the wall, too.”
“I think the Make a Difference project prevents bullying. It makes people feel special and makes people feel like they have value.”
“At the end of the year, if we gave one sticky note to each person, the world would become a better place. People would see what we are doing and would want to try to make a difference, too.”
“I have seen some of the shyest, least popular kids here have people come up and give them a compliment, and it helps those people become confident and feel good about themselves.”
“When someone does something nice, it starts a chain reaction. People who see that help other people who help other people and it just keeps going.”
Next time you visit Tempe Academy, make sure that you check out the Make A Difference Project. It is a sight you can’t miss, but it is sure to make a difference in your day and put a smile on your face.