Service High School students counter vandalism by spreading positive messages

Published: Oct. 15, 2021 at 7:25 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Can words of kindness help combat a wave of vandalism that hit the Anchorage School District last month? Students in Service High School’s peer mentorship class are hoping they can.

Despite the fact that Friday was an in-service day, students were hard at work painting positive messages in school bathrooms. Peer mentor advisor and teacher Mary Ahonen said the recent wave of vandalism to school bathrooms has been particularly difficult for her students who work purposely to make the school a welcoming environment for all.

“Especially with a group of students who work so hard to make the climate one of positivity, and then to see this going on is extremely frustrating,” she said. “But, you know, their reaction is so encouraging. They are going to react by painting the bathrooms and by spreading the word that this is not what we want to do.”

It’s not the first time peer mentor students have taken action. They started the bathroom painting project three years ago after Service High experienced a rash of graffiti on bathroom walls.

“They researched, they wrote a proposal, they presented to the PTSA and got a grant to start painting positive messages around our school to combat those really negative things that were happening,” Ahonen said.

But the messages may be more important than ever. They are reminders about values and respect that are part of a bigger campaign.

“It’s not only painting bathrooms,” said peer mentor student Mili Tacas. “But it’s also spreading the word, making announcements here and there, saying that, like, we have to stop doing that.”

Ahonen said promoting a culture of kindness has had an impact on the entire school, and she credits the students who are spreading it.

“That’s encouraging as a teacher to see we do have students in the building, more students in the building, that are doing good and trying to create positive change,” she said.

The school has several more bathrooms that still need painting. Students said it’s an ongoing project they plan to continue until they’re done.

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