Needham High makes a statement

An NHS student works on her creation, which bears a quote from Rihanna: 'Shine bright like a diamond.'

By Stephen Press
Hometown Weekly Staff

It's approaching noon on a half-day at Needham High School (NHS). One might expect to find legions of students queued at every exit, primed to escape into the midday sun and seize the remains of the afternoon.

There is a very different reality at play, though, and it is most apparent in the cafeteria.

There, music blares. The space is bustling with students. As the bell rings to mark the end of the school day, even more kids file into the room. They are handed tee shirts, make their way to join their peers around tables, and begin enthusiastically decorating their short-sleeved canvases, each shirt emblazoned with a message as unique and diverse as the students themselves.

This is Make a Statement Day at NHS. But what exactly is it?

"It's all about what you want," says one student.

"It's a really good way to reflect on where you are in your life's journey right now," offers yet another.

"It's about being you and showing others who you are," states a Needham high-schooler.

The basic gist: Make a Statement Day is an opportunity for Needham High's students, teachers, and administrators to decorate their own unique tee-shirts, each bearing a personal statement. There are no restrictions in terms of content - the statements run the gamut from silly to deadly serious. The next day, participants wear their new creations to school, allowing them not only a chance to make their own statements, but to take in those of their peers and teachers.

The program is run through Needham Youth Services (NYS) and the Own Your Peace Club, and has been in existence for well over a decade.

"It's really just a day for students to write something on their shirts that they really feel is important to them," says Jack Cruickshank, a junior at NHS and an appointed member of the NYS Board of Directors. "You're trying to make a statement through the tee shirt that you wear … it's just awesome to see the different things that kids put on their tee shirts.

"It's a great thing," he adds. "Students, teachers, administrators - everyone's involved."

As one peruses the myriad in-progress shirts in the cafeteria, it becomes apparent why the day is such a beloved staple in the NHS calendar. Aside from the breadth (and in many cases, depth) of the statements on display, there is an unmistakably jovial atmosphere about the room. The assembled students, teachers and administrators are all smiles. It is as though the statements themselves are secondary to the act of making them.

"It's just a really great vibe," says Molly Retick, an NHS senior cheerfully handing out blank tee-shirts to her fellow students. "I love how enthusiastic people get about making their shirts. It's cool to see all the energy in the room today, and then get see everyone's finished product tomorrow in school when they wear them."

For his part, Jon Mattleman, Director of NYS, is taking in the day with pride, as are his fellow Youth Services staffers. This is quite clearly a highlight for NYS, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.

"Young people have a lot to say; they don't always have a forum in which to say it," says Mattleman as he interacts with students and keeps the event running like a well-oiled machine. "Make a Statement Day is basically: 'You're valuable. You're important. We want to acknowledge what you have to say. Let us know what's on your mind.'

"We love it, and the students love it. This is all part of an Own Your Peace-Piece week … It's just about acknowledging students - they have things to say … It will get loud and raucous, and we like it that way."

Mattleman's predictions are entirely correct. NHS students are snacking on slices of pizza as they decorate their shirts and boisterously joke with friends. The jams are pumping out of the PA system. The room gets warmer as more and more kids fill the space.

All on a half-day.

"[Any time] you get several hundred students doing anything on one day at one time, it's remarkable," says Mattleman. "This is one of the only programs I've heard of where students, teachers, everyone participates equally. It's very unusual in that way."

"I think it's just the culture of Needham High School," Jack Cruickshank sums up. "I think we've built up this day - the day's been built up by Jon [Mattleman] and the rest of Youth Services, and the Own Your Peace Club. It's Own Your Peace-Piece week here at Needham High. I think they just do a great job, and that culture has really grown here at Needham High."

It is difficult to argue with Cruickshank's assessment. Indeed, perhaps the biggest statement made today isn't emblazoned on a tee-shirt. Rather, it can be found in the sheer number of enthusiastic students who've joined in the festivities.

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