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FHS honors students with PRIDE Awards

Principal Rav Dhillon and administrative assistant Brandi Tilton roamed the hallways of Ferndale High School one afternoon, carrying a stack of PRIDE Awards, Golden Eagle lanyards, and KitKat bars. Every couple minutes, they popped into a classroom and brought a student out into the hallway to receive their award.

The students’ reactions ranged from genuine surprise to elation. One student who primarily speaks Spanish received an award, and a bilingual student translated Dhillon’s explanation of the award to him. Once he heard the translation, a big smile broke across his face.

“You see how the students brighten up? It’s the best feeling ever!” Dhillon said afterwards. “It’s like a feel-good potion.”

For the past couple years, Ferndale School District staff have nominated their co-workers for Belonging Awards for making their school a more welcoming place. Dhillon saw firsthand how honored her staff felt when they received an award, and she wondered if her school could try a similar campaign for students.

“We have 1,300 kids, and there are so many of them that need acknowledgement and don’t receive it,” she said. “So we wanted to give our staff an opportunity to nominate those students.”

Dhillon was also inspired by a similar staff-nominated student award program from the school in Langley, BC where she previously taught. She decided to name these new honors the PRIDE Awards – partly named after FHS’ motto (“It’s A Matter of Pride”) and partly after an acronym that the school has already been using for years (Perseverance, Respect, Integrity, Dedication, Excellence).

FHS staff can nominate a student for a wide variety of reasons. Sometimes, it’s for academic improvement. Abigail Triou wrote of one student, “He made a huge 180 degree turn from the first semester, and I’m just really proud of the progress and change in motivation that he has had in the past two months.” Sometimes students are nominated for helping their peers with homework, or for working hard to learn English after moving to Ferndale from a foreign country.

And sometimes, students are nominated for simply spreading an optimistic demeanor around the school.

“He positively impacts the classroom with his energy and contributions during class discussions,” English teacher Lisa Mee wrote in her nomination of a student. “He enters class each day with a positive attitude and an enthusiasm that is contagious!”

Most Fridays, Dhillon and Tilton visit classes and hand out PRIDE Awards to students. Dhillon reads the reason the student was nominated; hands them a certificate, lanyard, and a candy bar; and then asks permission to take their picture with their award. If the student is alright with the photo, that picture is displayed on the cafeteria jumbotron. Dhillon has handed out more than 60 awards since she launched the campaign in January.