Partner School Stories


By Katelyn Stuck and Sydnei Phifer

The Positivity Project implemented in Grand Blanc Community Schools

Editor’s Note: This is a featured guest post from Partner School students.

Mike Erwin and Jeff Bryan served five times for 52 months in Iraq and Afghanistan, but after returning home, they found a new mission. In 2015, the pair founded The Positivity Project, a movement that has been implemented in 180 Partner Schools around the country as of 2017.

“After leaving the active duty, we found ourselves asking a simple question: ‘What does our country need and how can we help?,’” founders Jeff Bryan and Mike Erwin said. “We determined that, pound for pound, we could make the biggest impact by empowering America’s youth to build strong relationships by seeing the good in themselves and others.”

The project is centered around positive psychology which, according to The Positivity Project website, is the “scientific study of what makes life most worth living — and maintains that what is good in life is as genuine as what is bad.”

Positive psychology is based on Martin Seligman and Christopher Peterson’s book Character Strengths and Virtues. The study features the 24 character strengths found in each person. Some strengths include gratitude, bravery, creativity, and perspective.

Mike Erwin, co-founder and president of The Positivity Project, with Dr. Chris Peterson, one of the leaders of positive psychology and Erwin’s thesis advisor and friend, at the University of Michigan.

One of Erwin and Bryan’s inspirations for the project was Dr. Chris Peterson, a professor from the University of Michigan. Peterson was one of the founders of positive psychology before he passed in Oct. 2012.

“Dr. Peterson is the reason that #OtherPeopleMatter is our motto, hashtag, and spirit of the movement we are building,” Bryan and Erwin said. “He often began lectures by stating, ‘I can sum up positive psychology in just three words — Other People Matter. Period. Anything that builds relationships between and among people is going to make you happy.’”

On Feb. 16, 2015, to celebrate Peterson’s 65th birthday, Bryan and Erwin created a Facebook page in honor of Peterson with quotes, articles, and videos showing the 24 character strengths, the core to the #OtherPeopleMatter thesis. This led a teacher at Morgan Road Elementary to request that the character strengths be taught at her school.

“We are proud to carry on [Dr. Peterson’s]  legacy, through the research on character and relationships that he led for over a decade,” Bryan and Erwin said.

Success at Morgan Road Elementary led Erwin and Bryan to spread The Positivity Project elsewhere.

“When we visited [Morgan Road Elementary] in Nov. 2015, teachers told us that this was the best way they’d ever taught character — and it was having a huge impact on students’ relationships in just two months,” Bryan and Erwin said. “After hearing more powerful personal stories from students, teachers, and parents, we knew it was our duty to bring it to schools across the country.”

This year, the entire Grand Blanc district is implementing The Positivity Project. GBHS is one of three high schools in the nation piloting the program.

“The need for culture change brought the idea of The Positivity Project. We felt a change was needed that would help restore a fun respectful movement,” assistant principal and head of the project Lamanzer Williams said.

One culture change in the district occurred on Aug. 29, when a district wide scavenger hunt took place that included all faculty members of Grand Blanc Community schools, including teachers, administrators, custodians, hall monitors, cafeteria workers, and bus drivers. It was a hands-on way to learn about the 24 character traits as they visited stations around the community  that helped them learn the characteristics for their school year. Some stations of the scavenger hunt included faculty engaging in Crossfit to learn about prudence and gaining perspective from residents at Abbey Park Assisted Living Center.

Abbey Park showed the visitors #perspective. Residents talked about their lives and shared many stories. Leona Bennett (pictured) told a group “make your own fun” and shared stories from when she was a young girl. She has a message for parents: “pay attention to your kids.”

“The scavenger hunt was a unique way to spend time getting to know a new topic that was to be brought into our classrooms,” chemistry teacher Lindsay Meyer said. “It allowed us time to reflect on our personal character strengths and weaknesses. It made me excited to do the same thing with my students.”

Grand Blanc staff members learn about #creativity at Sub Zero Yogurt and Ice Cream.

Additionally, teachers are incorporating The Positivity Project in the classroom by showing videos that demonstrate the weekly character trait.

“Many people are looking for positive things to help their life be more productive and meaningful,” Williams said. “The other people mindset is needed in the world we live in more than ever, which is the social issues we face today.”

In order to implement the project, organizers are relying on student involvement. The Peer Mediation class at GBHS is playing a role within the project.

“The whole reason I joined Peer Mediation was so I can help people not feel alone and make it so people have someone to go to, and I think the Positivity Project is a great foundation to work on,” junior Peer Mediation member Jeremy Johnson said.

Peer Mediation has started to incorporate the project through meetings about mental fitness.

“The big picture is, ‘help yourself before helping other people,’” Johnson said. “Meaning, you can’t help anyone else if you are not mentally in shape for yourself.”

As a peer mediator, senior Madison Koresh sees importance in bringing the ideas of The Positivity Project to the Grand Blanc school system.

“[The Positivity Project is] important to me because it’s going to bring connection to the school and everyone in it, so that we can learn to care for everyone,” Koresh said.

The Positivity Project grew from one Partner School in 2015 to 180 Partner Schools in 2017. Grand Blanc’s Indian Hill Elementary was Michigan’s only P2 Partner School in 2016. There are now 33.

After the Grand Blanc district kickstarted The Positivity Project program, the founders noticed that Grand Blanc operates with the character strengths of open-mindedness, bravery, and creativity. Since Indian Hill Elementary was the first school in Michigan to implement the program, a significant amount of bravery was involved.

“When you ‘go first’ you risk failure and embarrassment,” Bryan and Erwin said. “And still, Grand Blanc has consistently ‘gone first’ in implementing the P2. But, because of that bravery, [GBHS] are absolute leaders in Michigan and nationwide. Last year, we had one Partner School in Michigan: Indian Hill. This year, there are 33 Partner Schools in Michigan. That is true leadership and a testament to the bravery of Grand Blanc.”

Katelyn Stuck and Sydnei Phifer

Katelyn Stuck is the Editor-in-Chief of The Bobcat Banner. She is a senior at Grand Blanc High School in Grand Blanc, Michigan.This is her third year on the newspaper staff. Katelyn's goal as Editor-in-Chief and a journalist is to use her interests of design, photography, writing, and leadership to impact the world in a positive way. Sydnei Phifer is a Staff Writer of The Bobcat Banner. She is a senior at Grand Blanc High School in Grand Blanc, Michigan. This is her first year on the staff. She enjoys expanding her horizon with journalism and bettering her knowledge on photography and the development of stories.