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Cottonwood Heights Journal

Olympus Students Swap-A-Heart To Promote Inclusion

Oct 31, 2014 02:28PM ● By Marci Heugly

Part of the high school experience is making some very important decisions. Not everyone will pick the same path in life, and students at Olympus not only want to embrace their differences, but celebrate them. 

"I walk down the halls of school every day and see people that I don't know," said student Clair Gillett, a Be Strong Committee member. "We wanted to do something that would help us learn to value our differences and the differences of others."

Each year, a Be Strong Committee is formed by eight students that are chosen by the principal based on their leadership qualities, service record and academic standing. This year, these students wanted to focus their efforts on uniting the student body. They recognize that even though the students are different, they don't have to be divided. Thus, the Swap-A-Heart project was born. 

"Our committee found a generous anonymous donor from Holladay who gave $5,000 to buy T-shirts for all the students and faculty, everyone that works there," said Allyson Chard, the Be Strong PTA parent chair. "We wanted to find a way to get everyone to participate."

Since every student is required to take an English class, the committee worked with the English department to get maximum participation in the Swap-A-Heart event. Teachers passed out the T-shirts and assigned the students to design a visual representation on the front of the shirt that showed one way they are unique. In addition, they wrote a paragraph explaining their design and put it in an envelope attached to the shirt. Because it was an assignment for credit, 95 percent of the students completed the task.

On Oct. 14, the Be Strong officers collected the shirts and put them on every chair in the auditorium. The students then filed in for an assembly, took the shirt on their chair, read the note in the envelope and then watched a video presentation that included interviews of several students explaining their shirts.

"It was a very emotional day," Chard said. 

The next step of the project was to invite all the students to "Wear it Wednesday" the next day, when each student would wear the shirt that was on their seat and seek out the original artist. 

"I was amazed at how many kids participated," Chard said. "Probably 75 percent of the students wore the shirts the next day." 

That evening, there was a tailgate event before the high school football game. 

"Kids all shapes and sizes that normally don't get involved were at the game that night," Chard said. "Our student body was so much more aware of the people around them." 

The committee's goal of getting students to know those outside of their circles seemed to be working. 

"So much of us could learn from the diversity we have at our school," Clair said. "It was so cool to see all our hard work pay off."