A new project called “I Matter” is teaching kids at Copperopolis and Mark Twain Elementary Schools self-worth.

The project “is helping students feel valued, build a sense of connection with each other and to the community, and highlight individual worth,” a press release from the Calaveras County Office of Education states.

Black and white photos of students (and some staff) holding hand-written signs stating “why they feel they matter” were mounted on colorful paper and displayed in the cafeteria at Mark Twain Elementary. The office of education stated that the project “has had a positive impact on students, staff and family members” and acknowledged a list of staff from both schools who assisted in the project. Those named were Brice Maygren, Samantha Austin, Amy Kilgore, Superintendent Paula Wyant, Samantha and Paula, Tamsen Lenior, Tonya Ziehlke, Christy Miro, Gary Pogue, and Dillon Wyant. 

This “labor of love” sheds a positive light on what had been a hard year for students, staff, and parents alike, the release states. 

The two schools are in the Mark Twain Union Elementary School District (MTUESD), which recently received attention for its stance on an imminent vaccine mandate announced by the Gov. Gavin Newsom in October. The school district has faced myriad challenges this school year, including returning to in-person learning and facing parent criticism over enforcing mask mandates.

Scott Nanik, Calaveras County Superintendent of Schools said in the release, “A focus on student mental health is more crucial now than ever. Projects such as this help remind students that they are important, they matter and each of them as individuals are valued.”

Mark Twain Elementary Superintendent Paula Wyant also praised the project, saying it gives students and the community a chance to celebrate “what makes them so special and important,” and that the act of writing down why they matter “takes the affirmation to such a concrete level.”

Wyant also stated, “It was especially important that this project move forward as we entered into our first year returning to campuses in a traditional way after having so many bumps in the road since March 2019. This was truly a blessing to me as I haven't been with MTUESD very long and all in the midst of Covid, so seeing all the faces who make up both school communities in such a profound way will stay with me forever!”

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Marie-Elena studied creative writing, art, and photography at University of Nebraska at Omaha, graduating with a BA in Studio Art -Visual Media. She moved to California from Nebraska in 2019 and is happy to call Calaveras County her home.

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