A small group of Woodland High School students uses Instagram to promote individuality and combat cyber-bullying

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Earlier this school year, a mysterious Instagram account appeared created with the mission to combat cyber-bullying. Each day, the account spotlights a different Woodland High School student with photos taken from their social networking accounts and touching personal descriptions of who the student is and what makes them unique and wonderful.

An Instagram account named @WoodlandHSStars spotlights random students at Woodland High School with photos and messages of what makes each student awesome.
An Instagram account named @WoodlandHSStars spotlights random students at Woodland High School with photos and messages of what makes each student awesome.

In just a few months, the Instagram account, named @WoodlandHSStars, has put the spotlight on more than 100 students garnering nearly 300 followers. The page's description offers no clues to its authors, simply featuring its mission statement: "Every one of you is unique and beautiful, and we want to recognize you for all your awesomeness."

Principal John Shoup started following the account on Instagram after hearing about it from a community member, and eventually tracked down the students behind it. "I was amazed we had kids at the school doing this, but I did have a little trepidation, too, as I wanted to make sure they were sincere," he explained. "After I learned who was involved, any concern I had subsided as these are great kids doing an amazing thing for our school and our community!"

The students behind WoodlandHSStars intend to eventually spotlight each and every student at Woodland High School.
The students behind WoodlandHSStars intend to eventually spotlight each and every student at Woodland High School. 

Even though Principal Shoup knows the students involved and helps them identify random students to spotlight, the group asked to remain anonymous. Even the parents of the group's members don't know who's behind the page. "Being anonymous preserves the humility of the project," explained one of the students involved. "This account is coming from everybody; it's not about us." Another added, "Why put the spotlight on us when it can be about everyone else?"

The group started the account so they could acknowledge the great things their classmates do as people, not just as outstanding academic scholars or successful student athletes. "Some kids are noticed for academics or sports, but this account is about character," explained one of the founders. "We wanted it to be about more than just popularity," agreed another. "The goal of the account is to reinforce the importance of being good and nice to others when you think no one is watching or paying attention."

The Instagram account spotlights students based on their character, not just their academic success or athletic prowess.
The Instagram account spotlights students based on their character, not just their academic success or athletic prowess. 

Researching, observing, and writing each day's spotlight entails quite a bit of effort and work, however the group divides the duties evenly. "We work together to pick students to spotlight, and then go on social media to find pictures, communicating with one another, and editing each other's writing to make sure it's good," explained one of the students. "Posting has never been a chore for us," explained another student. "It doesn't feel like 'I have to post today,' the feeling is 'I get to post today,' and seeing the spotlighted student react the next day is just an awesome experience."

The page receives overwhelmingly positive response both in terms of online comments as well as students discussing it throughout the school day. "We get tons of positive comments and hear kids in the halls talking about the page," said one group member. "Everyone talks about how the post made their day." Although the page hasn't received any negative commentary, the students moderate the page by regularly replying to positive comments and deleting any negative comments.

Principal John Shoup knows the students behind the page, but has agreed to maintain their anonymity because it contributes to the account's success.
Principal John Shoup knows the students behind the page, but has agreed to maintain their anonymity because it contributes to the account's success. 

Principal Shoup couldn't be prouder of the students behind the account. "The spotlighted kids feel noticed and special which is outstanding and demonstrates a real positive use of social media," he explained. "In a climate that seems riddled by cyber-bullying, seeing something like this organically developed by kids who are so sincere and genuine is something every school should have."

The dedicated students plan to continue maintaining the site well into the future, even developing ideas for how to recruit new students to maintain the page when those involved eventually graduate. "We want to keep this page going as long as we can, but we need to be careful who we recruit to take it over," explained one of the founders. "The page is a powerful tool to help make people feel great and we want to make sure it stays that way."

Anyone can look at the page by searching for WoodlandHSStars on Instagram or visiting https://www.instagram.com/woodlandhsstars.

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