School sign spreads smiles

Students and teachers work together to brighten up Halifax’s south end

Students and teachers at St. Joseph’s Alexander McKay School in south-end Halifax post a new, positive message on their school sign every month to try and boost Covid-clouded spirits. 

The sign sits outside the school’s temporary location at Watt and Walnut Streets while the original building is being renovated. 

Some messages come from social worker Reese Jones, who is in charge of the sign. But other messages come from students, who pitch in on the sign’s theme. 

“The kids will weigh in on what they might want up there if there’s something special that they want to celebrate,” Jones told The Signal. 

A student or two will also lend a hand while Jones tapes a new message to the board.  

Adult takes picture of child posing in front of a sign that says "The best is yet to be."
Jones snaps a picture of a student outside St. Joseph’s-Alexander McKay School.   Dylan Taylor

The messages on the signs range from inspirational quotes and idioms to pieces of good advice — one of the messages on the sign in March reads “Friendships are the best ships.” 

Jones said the messages started as a way to connect with the school’s new community. School signs are typically used to announce upcoming events, but Jones said the board is better suited to spreading positivity. 

“We figured that the only messages that people need right now are reminders to take care of each other and lift each other up and to keep on looking up, cause it’s kind of a tough time for everyone.” 

Principal Amy Hunt said the decision to swap logistical info for something a little lighter is very much in line with the school’s philosophy. 

“As a school we focus on healthy relationships, we take a restorative approach in education,” she said. “What this means is that we strive to be people-centred as opposed to system-centred. I think a public facing sign, although small, is an opportunity to be impactful, to be relational, and to connect with community during this time when we all have shared challenges and shared social limitations.” 

Three women pose in front of a sign that says "Be safe, be well, be excellent to each other."
Members of the SJAM team pose in front of Principal Hunt’s favourite sign, which was posted in December 2021.   Facebook

Hunt said her favourite message — “be safe, be well, be excellent to each other” — was posted in December 2021, when the pandemic threatened to rule out the possibility of in-person classes.  

“It connected everyone through positive messaging during a really uncertain time.” 

Elementary school students and parents aren’t the only ones who benefit from the messages. The school sits right on the outskirts of Dalhousie’s campus. Many students from Dalhousie and the University of King’s College pass it by on the way to school. 

Second-year King’s student Mali Triger said the messages are always a pick-me-up. 

“They make me laugh, even if they’re cheesy. I just find them funny,” she said.

Second-year King’s student Mali Trigger (left) and her friend Zoe Woods (right) pass by the sign.   Dylan Taylor

Huntthe principal, emphasized the value of drawing together multiple communities during the pandemic. 

“I think if the pandemic has revealed anything it’s the importance of connection, and interdependence,” she said. “So as a school our approach during the pandemic has been well-being first, and I think the sign reflects that.” 

Jones, the school social worker, hammered home the value of keeping a smile on, even when times get tough. 

“I don’t want to preach positivity when people are having a hard time, but I think the idea of seeing something that might brighten up your day, or give you the idea that other people could use your help too or use a smile I think is just a good reminder for everyone.”  

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