Before they turned their tassels at graduation, seniors at Salem High School celebrated Pride and LGBTQ awareness during a week where they came together to thank their school and community for their education.
Class President Val Christoforos said he spoke from his personal experience as a member of the LGBTQ community when planning Pride Day for the “Week of Giving” that focused on community service and compassionate support for each other.
“A big part of our community that tends to be left out a lot is the LGBTQ community,” he said. “We can recognize and support some of our queer students ... to show that their voice matters and that we value what they have to share.”
As part of Pride Day, students made colorful posters supporting LGBTQ students that hang in the school lobby. They sold rainbow colored masks. They also gathered to talk about how best to be an ally for LGBTQ students and created kits for teachers to ensure their classrooms are safe spaces.
During the rest of the week, students took part in themed activities, ranging from putting coins in an expired parking meter for a Pay It Forward Day to passing out baked goods and homemade cards on Staff Appreciation Day. Flower pots were painted for high school teachers. Notes of appreciation were sent to teachers in elementary and middle schools.
“They closed out their Salem Public Schools career by giving back,” said Myra Caldeira, an advisor to the classes of 2020 and 2021. “I am so proud of them.
The initiative started last year to fill the week between the last day of classes and Senior Week activities. But due to the COVID-19 pandemic, students carried out activities on their own, instead of as a class, Caldeira said.
This year, Christoforos and his fellow class officers worked with Caldeira and Angie Giancola, their other senior advisor, to make the week their own.
A Mental Health Day turned out to be a favorite among students. Group conversations about the stigma surrounding mental health in youth were held in collaboration with Mental Makeover, an organization founded by two Salem High alumni.
Christoforos said multiple students posted supportive messages on their social media stories afterward, such as “I’m so grateful for my class” and “Everyone who shared today, you’re amazing.”
“I feel like it definitely broke the ice, especially after like a long time of being in isolation,” he said.
“It was a really nice end to the week because it kind of really solidified that connection,” senior Eva Ferreira said. “I definitely used my experience during the Week of Giving to influence the people that I really spent time with during Senior Week.”
The Week Of Giving was Ferreira’s first time back in the building after a long year of remote learning.
“That really was such a great reminder on Monday, the first day, that we do have a really good connection as a class, and we’ve really been building this relationship for a while,” they said.
Adjustments were made, so remote students could also participate in the activities through virtual discussions and clean-up efforts in their own neighborhoods on Beautify Salem Day.
Giancola said several staff members approached her about how impressive they found the class’s thoughtfulness.
She also saw posts from community members, who expressed their gratitude for the small acts of kindness completed on Pay It Forward Day.
“So many people have just been so wildly impressed,” Giancola said. “If people knew the senior class this year, this didn’t come as a surprise. It was really just an extension of the selflessness ... that they’ve expressed for four years.”