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The topic was embracing diversity and accepting others no matter their looks, ethnicity or how different they may be from you.

And in this case, the effort involved Bettendorf Middle School sixth-grade students who were challenged to develop a slogan that captured those sentiments and a design for a billboard to display it.

“I am very passionate about his project,” said sixth-grade language arts teacher Stephanie Maxwell who came up with the topic and guided the students involved. “Middle school is tough. It is a sensitive age. And this topic is not just about school and student but for all the world.”

This is the sixth year she has done this project, each with different themes. They work with a professional marketing person who tweaks designs and offers suggestions.

Eventually, a panel of school officials and community members choose a winning entry. This year the vote was split. The panel liked the design of one project and the slogan of another, so students are combining them, Maxwell said.

The winning slogan of “Be the Acceptance the World Needs" was created by students Riley Kaalberg, Kassandra Rockwell and Aiden Van Daele. The winning design featured hands and international flags created by students Alivia Carr, Wilnea Evans and Kaden Nixon.

“We saw the picture on Google Images. There were a few others we liked but we thought that showed a lot of diversity,” said Alivia Carr of the winning design.

Her teammate, Kaden Nixon, said he learned a lot.

“We worked on it from September to January,” he said. “There was a lot of thinking to it and teamwork to it.”

The students said they have witnessed bullying or teasing involving students who were picked on for various reasons. They hope this poster will create discussions and solutions to condemn such behavior.

We met five or six times and we decided on the first word, acceptance,” said Kassandra Rockwell, about the winning slogan. “You don't single out people because they are different from you. You accept them for who they are.”

Like others, she also learned cooperation and “how to make something look and sound professional.”

Riley Kaalberg said they developed certain objectives.

“We want to get across to accept everything no matter if it looks different from other people,” he said.

He also learned practical lessons. “I learned before the slogan that I did not have the courage to stand up to read in front of people but also to stand up to people (who may be bullying someone)."

Maxwell said once the project is completed, a sign will be made and placed in a glass case outside the school for a year.

And how will it feel to see your work on display?

“It will be glorious. It will feel so good,” Riley said.

“I wanted the students to be comfortable speaking about this,” Maxwell said. “Sixth-grade students are taught about bullying so we start from there. I wanted to think "how can I make it better?' I wanted to get across acceptance and how to work with cultural differences and try to create a culture of acceptance. I was so proud of them.”

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