Through a process called the “bathroom inspiration project,” teachers and administrators at Warren Middle School Forney Independent School District in Forney, Texas, spent their summer beautifying the school’s restrooms by painting motivational murals on each of the stalls. Forming messages like “Your mistakes don’t define you” and “Scatter kindness,” the brightly colored words are exactly what a young student needs to see when having a rough day — or any school day for that matter. And now that classes are officially in session, people are already noticing a positive impact.
Since posting photos of upgrades to the school in July, Principal Joshua Garcia tells Yahoo Lifestyle that the changes have elicited a great response.
“Students have been talking about the murals from the moment the pictures had been posted. Some even took the time to find a reason to come up to the campus to see the murals,” he says. “I think what makes this small little action so valuable is that it has set the tone for our campus.”
And not only is that important to students, parents, and fellow staff, but it is also vital for the school’s new principal, who is trying to gain the trust of the community during a time in which trust is so necessary for schools.
“Being new to the campus, I think the parents were able to see how much I value their children and have their best interest at heart,” Garcia continues. “I have had many parents tell me how they can just feel a difference in the campus climate and how much they are enjoying seeing their children wanting to come here. These murals have put trust back in the campus and its teachers, and by doing so we are able to build a culture in which our students want to be here and learn.”
According to child and adolescent psychologist Barbara Greenberg, creating an atmosphere of positivity is vital for students in their early adolescence because of their extreme sensitivity to peer approval and rejection.
“While kids are dealing with issues of rejection, and they see these affirming statements, it will be very meaningful and very necessary and might appear at exactly the right moment,” she tells Yahoo Lifestyle.
But even more crucial than the idea of positive affirmation is the principal’s goal to create a trusting environment when students have become increasingly anxious about violence taking place at schools.
“Kids, more than anything, need to feel connected and understood in a place where they’re spending most of their day and experiencing increasing anxiety,” Greenberg says. “Many of them are expressing anxiety about school shootings. So when you create a culture of connectedness and you feel like your teachers are on your team, you’re more likely to communicate with them.”
The efforts to foster those connections between students and teachers continued into Warren Middle School’s first day, when the administration set up a welcome-back celebration. In a video posted to their Facebook page, students are seen pulling up to the school while a band is playing music, before getting out of the car and being individually greeted by adults on staff.
Now the Texas middle school is hopeful that other institutions will take inspiration from its project and continue to introduce positive dialogue in districts across the country and maybe even around the world.
“I absolutely hope that this spreads like wildfire,” Greenberg says.
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