When students return from summer break, the restrooms at Finley Farms Elementary School won’t be just a place to use the toilet but a place to find inspiration.
Teachers Tamey Zollner and Kathy Roy spearheaded a project that transformed each of the four boys’ and four girls’ restrooms at the neighborhood K-6 campus with artwork and uplifting quotes.
“We are an ‘A-rated’ school and we have great kids,” said Zollner, who will start her eighth year in August teaching fifth-graders. “But there’s problems everywhere, and you can have what looks like an awesome school with a great set of kids, but you can have a kid who is hurting inside, and you don’t know what is going on in the home.
“Using the restroom is a little escape for kids. And if they need to escape and walk in there and see words reminding them they are loved, then that is exactly who it was meant for.”
Zollner got the idea from a Facebook post in February and approached third-grade teacher Roy with the proposal.
“She thought it was a great idea and we ran with it,” Zollner said. “It was an additional chance to remind the kids they have value and that words matter and their actions matter.”
Zollner and Roy scoured the internet, pulling quotes from Ralph Waldo Emerson to Dr. Seuss.
“We chose some of the quotes, reminding them to be kind to each other, reminding them they are powerful and valued,” Zollner said. “We teach about growth mindset and the ability to grow your intelligence over time, and some of the quotes push that.”
Principal Keegan Bassett, who is new to the school this year, embraced the concept.
“One of the biggest things for staff and teachers is, while they understand they do great things, they know there is room to grow every day,” he said. “There’s no reason to be complacent. Everybody needs inspiration.”
Many of the messages painted in the restroom stalls are what teachers try to impart to their students throughout the school year, he noted, adding, “It’s nice to have reminders.”
Bassett gave his stamp of approval to the two teachers after seeing their mock-up of the bathrooms, each with its own theme. He then sent out an email blast soliciting help from the rest of the school’s staff.
“Some donated time, other people had summer plans and were ready to take off and donated paint or paint brushes, and we had parents from the PTO drop off some lunch. The building maintenance crew cleaned up everything, so it was definitely a community effort.”
All expenses by the teachers were reimbursed by the Finley Farms Elementary Parent Teacher Organization. Dunn-Edwards Paints also donated paint and Home Depot gave the teachers discounts on supplies, according to Zollner.
At the end of the school year in May, a core group of about six teachers worked on the project, first by sanding the graffiti-resistant plastic partitions in the stalls so the latex paint would adhere.
“Not including that prep work, we each spent probably over 60 hours a piece in those bathrooms,” Zollner said. “It was a lot of work. Our hope is it will last a while. After we painted it, we sealed it with a spray sealant, which set off the fire alarm.”
Quotes at Finley Farms Elementary include “The only way to have a friend is to be one” by essayist and poet Emerson, “If you cannot do great things, do small things in a great way,” by self-help author Napoleon Hill and “You will move mountains” by Dr. Seuss.
“So one of the bathrooms has a great, big rainbow and sun on it,” Zollner said. “We chose quotes like ‘Scatter sunshine and be a rainbow in someone else’s cloud.”
There’s also a sports-themed restroom and a rock star-themed restroom with a giant guitar, musical notes and the quote, “Be somebody who makes everybody feel like a somebody.”
“We geared the quotes based on reading ability and the ability to comprehend the deeper meaning behind them,” Zollner said. “A lot of the quotes are things that we have used with our kids.”
A handful of schools around the country have embarked on similar makeovers, including at a North Caroline middle school where a local artist painted motivational murals in the girls’ bathrooms and in Arlington, Texas, where parents painted messages of joy at an elementary school’s bathrooms.
Although students won’t see the new bathrooms officially until Aug. 2, they and their parents can get a sneak peak at Meet the Teacher Night on July 31.
“I really think with all the things in the news lately and we’ve had tragedies at some of our schools, it was just one of those things that would bring a great positive message to our kids,” Zollner said. “We did this completely for the kids. This was for them.”