When teacher Ashley Ferraro was in the girls' bathroom at her Colorado high school, she noticed a message of despair scribbled on the wall.
"Is life worth all the BS?" it said.
Her first instinct was to erase it, the English teacher at Golden High School told MNN.
"My first reaction was ah, graffiti, we have to clean it and scrub it off and we don’t want other kids to see it because what if they see it and think the same thing?" she said. "But if we cover it up and clean it, are we ignoring the question and by that, are we covering up the person and the pain they are in?"
Instead, Ferraro talked to her students and said if someone is asking a question, it deserves a response. She gave them a stack of sticky notes and permanent markers and said they could participate if they wanted to.
"I was truly inspired and in awe of the kids' responses, what they said, how kind and compassionate they were," she said. "Teenagers can be so mean, but so many of them reached out with messages like 'you are loved' and 'we want you here.'"
She had prepared by talking to Assistant Principal Christina Gese so they could be ready if questions or concerns arose. The school has a program to help everyone manage the ups and downs of life. "It's about how do we become strong and healthy in a positive, good way so that everyone feels they belong?" Ferraro said. This situation was part of that positive community building.
A wall of support
Within a few days, more than 100 supportive notes surrounded that scrawled plea.
"Yes, because there are people that want to help and people that want to listen," one says. "I know it's such a cliche, but it will get better."
Another says: "Life is worth it because even if it's bad there is always a good. We were all put here for a reason, we all go through something tough. It always gets better."
So many students were going into the girls' bathroom to read the notes and add to the collection that the school's administrators decided to open up a hallway for more notes and broader participation.
They left the original message and the notes in the bathroom. Ferraro visits often to make sure the messages are supportive and to tape up any notes that have fallen down.
Words have an impact
As word got out about the sticky notes, news outlets began to pick up the story.
Taking advantage of the awareness, one student launched a Facebook campaign to raise money for Suicide Prevention and Crisis services.
"I told my students, 'I know we say all the time that words matter and you have an impact. Here’s an opportunity to see a little bit of the ripple effect that you’re having'," Ferraro said.
Another teacher told Ferraro she met with a student who was really struggling with life. She walked the student into the bathroom and showed her all the messages of support, which made her cry.
Ferraro hasn't heard from the student who posted the original message, but hopes that they've read the notes and that the notes have made a difference.
"We all get exhausted and tired," she said. "We all feel these things."