Education

Can school bathrooms inspire students? Columbus principal thinks so with this project.

Volunteers use paint, creativity to transform school bathrooms and inspire students to “bloom where you are planted.”

Yvette Scarborough, principal at Fox Elementary School, has been searching for a way to motivate students to help keep the school’s bathrooms clean. Thanks to volunteers, she thinks she's found a way with an even more inspirational purpose.
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Yvette Scarborough, principal at Fox Elementary School, has been searching for a way to motivate students to help keep the school’s bathrooms clean. Thanks to volunteers, she thinks she's found a way with an even more inspirational purpose.

Yvette Scarborough, starting her fourth year as Fox Elementary School’s principal, has been searching for an effective way to motivate her students to help keep their school’s bathrooms clean. Thanks to some creative volunteers, she thinks she found such a way with an even more inspirational purpose.

After seeing on social media photos of brightly painted words of wisdom decorating school bathrooms in other districts, Scarborough and a half dozen school and community volunteers created that uplifting bathroom atmosphere in Fox’s wing for grades 3-5.

The school of approximately 300 students has bathrooms in each of the classrooms in grades K-2, which aren’t part of this project.

Rachael “Smiley” White, assistant manager of the Freeze Frame Yogurt Shoppe in downtown Columbus, was the after-school art teacher at Fox for a few years. Now, she is president and co-founder of SPARK Art, a local nonprofit organization dedicated to spreading kindness through art. So she volunteered her time and talent to help bring Scarborough’s vision to fruition.

“It’s something that I’m really passionate about, making art available for everyone,” White said. “… I hope they get inspired to be kind by the messages and just live happier lives.”

Scarborough, White and other volunteers chose the aphorisms, bought the supplies and painted the bathrooms. Two eight-hour days of work later, the project is nearly finished.

In the girls bathroom, two aphorisms are painted on the walls of the hand-washing area visible from the hallway:

Throw kindness around like confetti.

You are capable of amazing things.

On the wall inside:

Be the reason someone smiles today.

On the stall doors:

Your mistakes don’t define you.

“Our theme this year is, ‘We don’t lose; we win or we learn,’” Scarborough said. “That’s for the adults and the children.”

Bloom where you are planted.

“We don’t get to choose where we are in life, but you can be something, you can become something, no matter where you are,” White said.

Dream big. Sparkle more. Shine bright.

All of Fox’s students are eligible for free or reduced-price school meals.

“I don’t want them to be defined by their neighborhood or their circumstances,” Scarborough said.

You are loved.

“They need to know they’re loved,” Scarborough said.“Sometimes this is the only place they may feel it.”

Let your light shine.

On the door of the handicapped stall:

Life is about learning to dance in the rain.

“We know things at school can be hard,” Scarborough said. “Learning isn’t always the easiest thing to do. So you may feel like, ‘Ugh, this is not what I want.’ But you know what? ‘I can make something enjoyable out of it.’ It’s a life lesson if we don’t let the daily grind pull us down.”

And inside the handicapped stall, next to the sink is a more practical but still pretty message, complete with colorful hand prints:

Wash your hands.

That message will be painted in the boys bathroom as well, Scarborough promised.

On the wall facing the students in both bathrooms as they exit is this declaration:

It’s cool to be kind.

“Everybody sees that when they walk out,” Scarborough said. “Hopefully, it’s going to make a positive impact.”

In the boys bathroom, these two aphorisms will be painted on the walls of the hand-washing area visible from the hallways:

One kind word can change someone’s entire day.

Your attitude determines your direction.

“It makes you smile when you walk by,” Scarborough said. “I mean, I think the adults are going to be happier too. How can you not be happy when you see stuff like that?”

On the wall next to the urinals:

Let your ideas grow wild.

“Five-year-olds have great ideas; 10-year-olds have great ideas,” Scarborough said. “It doesn’t have to be one of us 40-year-olds that has the best idea.”

On the stall doors:

Your mistakes don’t define you.

“We decided the boys needed that too — but in boy colors,” Scarborough said.

Stay humble. Work hard. Be kind.

“You want them to be successful but not arrogant,”Scarborough said.

On the door of the handicapped stall:

Never let the fear of striking out keep you from playing the game.

“We need to know that it’s OK to try again and fear isn’t an option,” Scarborough said.

Summarizing what she hopes her students gain from the aphorisms, Scarborough said, “These are just some things I want the kids to know and think about. When it’s in front of you and you’re seeing it every day, it kind of becomes a part of you.”

The first day of classes in the Muscogee County School District’s 2018-19 academic year is Wednesday, but some Fox students already got a sneak peek at the inspirational bathrooms.

“They were like, ‘Oh, wow! This is so cool!’ Their faces were fantastic,” Scarborough said.

Even the boys. One of them bragged to the principal, “Our bathroom is the coolest.”

And if any inspired students ask to paint an aphorism of their choice, Scarborough said, “I’ll find some space.”

Mark Rice, 706-576-6272, @MarkRiceLE
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