#YouMatter: PHS students receive a Valentine’s Day surprise

PELHAM – Pelham High School students arriving at school on Valentine’s Day, Feb. 14, were greeted with a wall of hearts featuring a personalized message for each of the 950 students enrolled at the school.

The task was taken on by members of the school’s Pelham Unidos club, which translates to Pelham United, who spent countless hours over the course of a week cutting out paper hearts and writing the name of each student along with a positive message on each of them. The project will remain on display for the rest of the month.

Students spent time before, during and after school completing the project. Only club members were aware of the project. The rest of the student body was pleasantly surprised. Messages such as, “You light up the room,” “You’re worth it,” and “You are beautiful” were written on the hearts.

As students walked into the school on Valentine’s Day many stopped to find their name on the wall. Pelham Unidos club president and 12th-grader Jennifer Sierra said the project is a small gesture to make students feel special.

One of the teachers who oversaw the project, English as a Second Language teacher Juan Vasquez, said some of the messages on the hearts were written in different languages, such as Arabic, Spanish and Korean to reflect the different cultures within the school. Those hearts included English translations on them.

Club members also created large selfie picture frames and went throughout the cafeteria on Valentine’s Day taking photos with students during lunch.

“We wanted to pay special attention to students who seemed isolated or lonely,” Vasquez said. “The plan is to put the pictures on social media so that everyone can see the great things that our students are doing.”

Pelham Unidos is a new club at PHS. Sierra said the club held its first official meeting at the beginning of January and meets every Wednesday to discuss ways to make a difference at the school.

“I’ve really been enjoying it because I feel like at the school – even though a lot of us know of each other – we’re not really friends,” Sierra said. “Through this club we’ve already formed a small community. Now when I walk to class I don’t just stare at my phone – I look around and speak to new friends and notice the diversity around me. It makes me feel like I’m a part of something.”

Sierra said anyone can join Pelham Unidos, which has 15-20 members so far.

“The club is about bringing everyone together as a community,” she said. “I’m really glad we were able to come together to form this group. It has given me a lot of experiences already in such a short amount of time and it’s helped me connect more with the school.”

The club also has another project in the works. English teacher Jennifer Brunner said it started out as a Black History Month project but soon grew into a project that celebrates all cultures. Pelham Unidos member and ninth-grader Alana Harrison said the project features people of different colors holding hands around the world with the words, “There’s only one race, the human race.”

The students also plan to create art projects highlighting influential people from various cultures and place them throughout the school.

“In school right now, we’re mostly learning about one culture, so we’re hoping to embrace all cultures,” Harrison said.

PHS principal Amanda Wilbanks said she’s proud of the club for taking ownership of diversity at the school.

“In the time that I’ve been here, we’ve never had anything done on this scale,” she said. “I think that the school’s culture has always been good and this group is doing a good job of advertising that, but things can always be done to make it better.”