Friday, December 16, 2016

West students create new way for students to express themselves

There’s a community experiment going on at West High School that by all accounts seems to be successful. Now in its second week, the “Before I Die” project allows students and staff to anonymously reveal their deepest hopes, life goals, and dreams on chalkboard walls. Anyone can pick up a piece of chalk and complete the stenciled sentence, “Before I die I want to. . . .” with whatever their personal aspirations are.

A group of English learner students spearheaded the project at West, inspired by a New Orleans artist they learned about in class. Candy Chang created the very first “Before I Die” wall in her own neighborhood. Since 2011, more than 1,000 Before I Die walls have been created in at least 70 countries, in over 35 languages.

Most of those walls are community projects. We know of just one other Before I Die wall in New Hampshire -- created in Portsmouth -- but the ones at West are the first ever in a school. The EL students monitor the walls they created in a stairwell and in the cafeteria every day, erasing entries periodically to make room for others.

They worked for a couple of weeks to prep for the project. The chalk walls are made from big boxes cut to size, painted black and with chalkboard paint, then stenciled in white paint. The response from the West High School community was immediate.

Submissions include goals such as hiking Mount Everest, getting married, going on a safari, taking a trip to Hawaii, and becoming a doctor. Anything goes, as long as the language is appropriate.

“People can tell the wall what they want, and they don’t have to be afraid,” said 15-year-old freshman Jorgerid Torres, one of the student organizers who is originally from Puerto Rico.

Principal Rick Dichard approved the project to stay up for three weeks, until the start of December break. But the students are already talking about doing it again and getting Manchester’s other high schools to create their own walls. They’re also trying to get Candy Chang to notice and maybe even visit.

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