KENNEWICK -- Ryan Snell feels comfortable at Southridge High School, he says. The 17-year-old senior can talk with any number of students and doesn't need to hide parts of himself to fit in.
But he knows not everyone feels the same way he does.
"I've watched one of my best friends pretend to be something he isn't," Ryan said.
Southridge High student leaders and teachers said they know there are many potential pitfalls for teenagers, from peer pressure to bullying, and schools have tried to improve the environment in hallways and classrooms.
But they're taking it to another level with a four-week campaign letting all students know that Southridge High is a safe place to not only learn but to be yourself.
"Every school has cliques and barriers, and we just want to bring those down," said Emma Sanders, 17, a senior and associated student body president.
Liz Stiles, the school's leadership teacher, said her students suggested several different subjects for the annual class campaign, such as acceptance, anti-bullying, and avoiding substance abuse and other bad decisions.
Those problems are present at Southridge, Stiles said. The dangers they pose include student depression and increased truancy.
"It's always been there," she said. "I think what's hard is that (the students) don't know how to cross it, how to break it down."
Motivational speaker Tyler Durman talked to students about prejudice and cliques on Feb. 26. Next week, the school's spring sports spirit week will emphasize acceptance. And during the last week in March, seniors will take part in the Every 15 Minutes program, which emphasizes making good decisions.
To drive home their message, student leaders covered mirrors in the school last week and called for students to not wear makeup for a day to show it doesn't matter how someone looks. They plan to encourage students to interact with people they don't usually talk to and pledge to avoid alcohol, drugs and other dangerous behavior.
"It's something our leadership class feels strongly about," Emma said.
Even though it's early, the student leaders said the campaign has caused a buzz among students. Many were talking about Durman's message in class and in the halls following his visit. Twitter blew up with comments.
"At first I wasn't diggin this whole 'Naked Face' thing but after hearing Tyler Durman speak this morning, I am all for it! #teamnomakeup," tweeted Southridge High student Courtney Wandling.
Principal Steve Biehn said he's spoken with students during lunch through the week. Durman's visit and the campaign are being well-received.
"It ties in exactly with what we try to do on a day-to-day basis," he said.
Emma and Ryan said they know the positive developments they're hoping for from the campaign won't happen overnight. But Emma said she'll know when their efforts have changed the school's atmosphere.
"It's people showing up (to class), high fiving (each other), standing up for each other," she said. "People don't think the little things matter, but they do."