Handle with care

Special students. Extra special welcome.

The very first lesson at Leaf River White Pine Academy in Deer Creek is by far the biggest.

Teachers ask new students not just for a show of hands, but for their handprints.

On the wall.

In the hall.

For everybody, especially the students, to see.

And, just to drive home the point that this school is theirs, now and forever, they do it with paint.

Maroon, when you enter the school.

Gold, when you leave.

“It makes the kids feel welcome,” explains D.S., a high school student.

That might sound overly simplistic, but, for these students, it’s a gesture they desperately need to see.

You see, they have emotional and behavioral characteristics that school officials deemed better addressed in this alternative setting.

They’re here at the Academy for up to two years, learning the skills needed to safely return to those mainstream classrooms.

That’s where that second set of gold handprints comes in.

“When I compare these two colors, it helps me work to my goal to get out of here,” writes Z.W., another high school student.

Studies show that kids with ties to a school exhibit far less negative behavior.

And what better way to make that connection than to grab them by the handprints?

They’re uniquely yours.

And now that the handprints are on the wall, with permanent paint, they – and, importantly, you — belong to the school, too.

“It shows the students that no matter what happens while they’re here, they’re always welcome and they’re always one of our students,” says Jena Osberg, an elementary teacher.

Those ties, of course, can go both ways, as one of the students so poignantly points out.

Writes J.B., an elementary school student: “It’s so the staff will remember us when we’re gone.”