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Virginia Journal of Education

I’m Gorgeous Inside

A real estate sign spurs some well-deserved recognition in Shenandoah County.

Shenandoah County Education Association member Herb Wilburn, a National Board Certified library media specialist at Sandy Hook Elementary School, and the school’s instructional coach, Christine Jones, took an idea gleaned from a real estate sign and made great things happen with it. Here, they talk about how the “I’m Gorgeous Inside” project got going and the impact it’s had in their school community.

How did this project begin?
On the way to work one morning, Herb passed a house that had been on the market for quite a while. The realtor had placed a new “I’m Gorgeous Inside” sign in the yard. Herb remembers thinking that it better be, because it was pretty shabby-looking on the outside. We got to thinking and it gave us an idea about some really special kids at our school, the kind who truly are gorgeous on the inside. 

We all know it’s true: Some kids stand out, some get lost, and some get ignored. It often seems that the students with the most problems take so much attention that the ones doing right can just slip by. There’s something wrong with that!

We thought, “What if we started acknowledging and celebrating the right reasons to stand out? We could give a boost to students who deserve it, students who sometimes need it the most.”

How does this fit in with your school’s programs?
Sandy Hook has over 900 students and can be easy to get lost in, for both students and adults. Like in all schools, some students stand out, but often for the wrong reasons. It doesn’t take long for a reputation to be gained, but it can take a very long time to live it down! If the problem is big or loud enough, it moves beyond classroom walls and starts affecting the whole school.

Any increase in behavior problems makes teaching and learning that much more difficult for everyone. We’re at the beginning stages of a school-wide Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) program. A committee of teachers worked over the summer to develop guidelines and expectations for behavior, and on ways to help teachers clearly communicate and teach these expectations. Staff members are encouraged to look for and call attention to good behaviors as a way to motivate students to positively change their actions. We use a system of reward tickets, handed out to kids “caught being good,” among other things.

We thought recognizing our gorgeous inside kids would support the PBIS program in a fun and meaningful way.

How did you pick the students?
It wasn’t that hard. What does it mean to be gorgeous inside? You know these students—they always have a smile on their faces, are never a problem in class, and make everyone around them feel good. They may or may not be the smartest or the best-dressed kids, they may not get the attention in sports or the arts other children do but, nonetheless, they’re the ones you look forward to seeing every day. Some come from some difficult situations, but you’d never know it by their attitude. It’s always a good day when you have them in class. Yeah, those kids are gorgeous inside and we need to recognize that.

We got to work immediately.  A group of resource teachers and staff met to discuss the project, and we came up with a list of kids we all knew to be those special kids. It was interesting, but hardly surprising, that we reached a consensus pretty quickly: From kindergarten to fifth grade, there were a number of students who clearly stood out as “gorgeous inside” in how they went about their days. Sunny attitudes, helpful, generous, kind and caring were all words we found ourselves using over and over to describe them.

How did it work?
Christine set to work getting an “I’m Gorgeous Inside” sign for a prop for the students to hold. Attempts to borrow one from a realtor came up empty, so she ordered a couple online and we had them within a week.
Our plan was to photograph students holding the sign, print the photographs poster size, and then display them in the school. Herb is an amateur photographer, often shooting photos at school events, so we set up a makeshift studio in the library and he took the pictures. Later, we had them printed at 16 x 20 inches.

The kids were dubious at first, not quite sure what to make of being called gorgeous, and most were pretty shy about the idea. This was not unexpected: While modesty is an often overlooked and underappreciated trait, it’s part of what makes these children special.

Each student’s photo is displayed for one week. We were able to rustle up some old poster frames and obtained permission to use a bulletin board in one of the school’s main hallways. Note cards were given to the students’ classmates to allow them to write something about what they saw as special in these kids. Extra notes, along with smaller picture prints, were in the faculty mailroom and staff was encouraged to add their thoughts. These notes are posted on the bulletin board around each kid’s photo. When the week is up, the student is given the poster and the personal notes to take home and keep.

How did the kids react?
We interviewed some of our “gorgeous” kids about what it meant to them, and the overall consensus was that they were happy to be picked; several described being proud of themselves.  One said that she felt appreciated. Since their pictures were taken in the beginning, several asked when their picture would be up. They’re excited to see their picture and then really excited to take it home.

What was the school-wide reaction?
We introduced this project to the staff at an afternoon faculty meeting, describing the idea and then holding up the large framed print of two of the students. We were met with a sea of smiles; the staff was obviously excited about this project.  After the meeting, a new teacher emailed us both and said she was reminded of why she went into teaching. It was nice to hear such a positive reaction from the staff.
We asked teachers to take time to highlight the bulletin board with their students. It was our hope that they would discuss with students what it meant to be “gorgeous inside.”  We often see children reading the notes on their way to class in the morning. This is a real favorite:  The notes the students write are so heartfelt and sweet.

How did the parents and community react?
Several parents have posted pictures of their “gorgeous” kid on social media, and it’s obvious they’re very proud of their child. We enjoy reading the supportive comments that others post in response. 

What’s next?
We plan to continue the project next year. We’ll pick some children to begin the year, then after a few weeks invite all the resource teachers to nominate students, because they see everyone. The response from students, teachers and families has been so positive, we feel that we have to keep it moving.



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