Oakland Township girls take action against hate

By Monica Drake

The Oakland Press

OAKLAND TOWNSHIP (AP) -- After a "hate list" was written in the girl's bathroom at Oakview Middle School, four students decided they wanted to do something to make the girls feel good about themselves instead.

The eighth graders went to school almost an hour early and hung posters in every girls' bathroom and locker room in the Oakland Township school. At a sleepover, the girls made 16 neon colored posters with the words "Take what you need" on top. The poster was set up like a "For sale" sign with tabs across the bottom that girls could rip off. On the tabs were written words such as love, hope, strength, courage, understanding, loyalty and patience.

Afterward, the entire school was talking about these posters. By the end of the day, all 160 of the tabs were gone. The middle school girls would meet in the hallways, talking about the word they took and wondering who put these posters up in the bathrooms.

And these four girls, while trying to keep a straight face, kept the secret -- wanting to remain anonymous.

That was until one of their parents called The Oakland Press, wanting to recognize the four girls for what they did. And, on Thursday afternoon, the four friends -- Abbie Wise, Isabella Griesser, Courtney Kohlstedt and Abbey Burk -- were surprised at their school.

Griesser said, "We weren't looking for extra attention for what we did."

Wise said this project has brought the four of them closer together. She said, in between her classes, she would go to the bathroom to see what girls were saying. Girls would say, "This made my day. I wonder who did this. I hope they do it again."

And Wise just pretended she had no idea.

"It was amazing seeing people walking around with it in their hands," she said.

The girls said they want to do something like this every month.

"We were going to put sticky notes on the mirrors, like 'You're beautiful' and 'You're smart,'" said Kohlstedt. "Not every girl, every day, has a guy tell her she's beautiful or someone to tell her she's beautiful. Sometimes, all you have to do is read it or know you are, even if nobody tells you."

Kohlstedt said several of her friends have had notes shoved into the top of their lockers with the words, "You're ugly" or "You're fat" written inside.

Burk said a lot of girls in their class think that beauty is the only thing that matters.

"Everyone is unique in their own way. Everyone is beautiful in their own way. You don't have to fit in with everybody else. And sometimes you just need to have someone tell you," Burk said.

Oakview Vice Principal Sarah Perry said there have been mean messages written on the bathroom walls this year directly targeting individual girls. She said she knows how badly this hurts.

"When kids told me, 'Did you hear about what's going on in the bathroom?' My first reaction was, 'Uh-oh.' I feel an obligation to take care of the kids, and I know the whole staff feels that way," said Perry. "But to hear something good, it was not just a sigh of relief, but goose bumps. And to hear the reactions of students, it brought tears to my eyes how excited the kids were to take those positive messages."

Perry said she is so proud of the girls, and she hopes this will inspire others to do something similar.

"They just came in early and watched the reactions. They didn't want any credit for it. They just wanted to make other people happy and put other people first," she said. "The best part of it is they did it even when no one was watching."

Published: Wed, Feb 20, 2013