It’s a typically bleak autumn morning this particular Friday at Garibaldi secondary, but as the students approach the school from under the damp, drab sky, their expressions invariably brighten.
In front of the school are two phalanxes of students, each dressed in identical blue T-shirts. There’s close to dozen of them this morning, happily cheering as they high-five every student, teacher and staff member that enters the Maple Ridge school.
One student approaches the group, still listening to his headphones while staring down at the ground in front of him. He looks up, surprised at the dozens of his classmates rushing towards him, each holding up their hands to give him a high-five. Slowly he takes off his headphones, and grinning ear-to-ear, starts throwing high fives as he makes his way down the gauntlet of awesome.
“High-five Friday,” they shout in unison.
As he enters the school, his smile lingers. He walks down the hall, not looking down at the ground, but with his head up.
High-five Fridays are quickly becoming a much-loved tradition at the school.
It’s a simple act, yet is having a profound effect on student morale, says principal Grant Frend.
“It’s impossible not to smile,” he says. “Maybe you’re having a bad day and that high-five cheers you up. Maybe you’re already having a good day, and it makes it that much better.”
The bi-monthly tradition was thought up by a group of students at the school who were challenged to come up with ways to improve school spirit.
Grade 12 student John Elias developed the initial idea, and it quickly snowballed from there.
The first High-five Friday attracted more than 60 student volunteers to greet people at the school’s three entrances. That number has since grown to more than 100.
“People come to school and they expect it to be boring, and maybe they don’t want to be here, all they think they’re going to do is work all day,” says Elias. “But to have people be positive, and have that positive energy for the whole day, it kind of changes your outlook of school.
“If you go about your whole day being negative, your day is going to suck. But if you go about the whole day being positive, you’re going to have a great day, and it’s going to radiate off everyone and it’s all going to be positive.”
Julya Rempel and Miranda Slogotski, both Grade 12 students, say they decided to become high-fivers because they wanted to do something meaningful in their last year at Garibaldi.
“It seemed so cool to brighten everyone’s day,” said Rempel. “We had a really positive reaction, everyone had a smile.”
The result has been students who feel much more connected to each other, they say.
“I definitely find it makes everyone feel more connected,” says Slogotski.
“A lot of younger kids I never knew are coming up to me now, cause I’m the high-five girl. They can talk to me now, I’m not scary.”
And when students feel more connected to their school, they are less likely to act out against it. Garibaldi, like most other schools across the district, is experiencing a dramatic drop in school vandalism. Last school year, just 32 incidents were reported at the school, compared to 88 in 2007/08. This year, the school hopes to see a new low in costly vandalism, which costs the district hundreds of thousands of dollars every year.
Frend helped organize T-shirts for the high-fivers, but otherwise the initiative is totally student-led, something he’s happy to see.
“It’s really neat to see the kids looking out for each other. You want to make everyone feel like they belong,” he says. “We know that if kids feel like they belong, they are going to get through school, they are going to enjoy school, they are going to get involved in stuff after school, and they are going to be more successful.”