Warren students use 2,500 positive notes to counter racist graffiti
Positive vibes filled Warren Township High School's Almond Road junior-senior building in Gurnee when students returned to class this week, just days after racist graffiti was found on bathroom stalls at the district's two campuses.
About 10 students participated in an effort to write kind messages on sticky notes over the weekend and post them on all 2,500 lockers before school started Monday morning, in an effort to counter the racism. Most of the notes remained on the Almond campus lockers Tuesday.
Student Kathryn Haynes said she was spurred by sticky note initiatives to create a positive environment elsewhere in the country. She said she became aware of how the notes were being used on social media when she decided to do the same at Warren.
"I felt like there was very negative air around the school," Haynes said.
Principal Patrick Keeley said he quickly approved the idea after his assistant, Rob Parrott, forwarded an email that Haynes had sent with her proposal last Saturday.
Gurnee police said an investigation continues into at least four instances of racist graffiti scrawled on bathroom stalls at the Almond building and the O'Plaine Road campus for freshmen and sophomores in Gurnee.
"White's Only" graffiti was found on a women's bathroom stall at the Almond campus Nov. 9. Officials at Gurnee-based Warren District 121 said three additional "copycat" messages were discovered Nov. 10 at the O'Plaine campus.
In response, some minority students at Almond organized what became a large indoor group meeting and a protest outside a day after the graffiti discovery. About 150 to 200 students jammed a hallway near the Almond building's library to discuss diversity and respect with Keeley.
But the start to the new school week took on a positive tone with the sticky notes on the lockers, with messages such as "You Are a Treasure," "Shine Your Light," "Believe in Yourself" and "You Can Change the World!"
Almond campus students Amanda Middleton, Jaylen Davis and four other students went to Haynes' house and spent upward of three hours to hand-write the 2,500 brief, inspirational messages. Haynes said she came up with some of the messages and found others online for a list she compiled.
Middleton said she enjoyed seeing the students' reactions Monday. The teenagers did not publicize that they were the ones to place the positive messages on the lockers, although Davis said some friends recognized his handwriting because he's known for writing notes.
"There were a lot of people who were really surprised by it and just really impressed," Middleton said. "A lot of teachers came up to us when we were putting them up and complimented us and said how inspired they were, how much they appreciated it and thanked us. And a lot of students were appreciative and seemed like they were moved by it."
Keeley said the notes were much appreciated after a difficult week. He added it was an example of how high school is about more than classwork.
"When last week happened, many teachers were upset, the kids were feeling upset," Keeley said. "So to walk in Monday morning after the weekend wondering how the week was going to be, and that's the first thing you see, that is exactly why we got into the field of education -- for kids to make a decision and do something like that."
Some of the student protesters blamed the election of Donald Trump as president for the racially charged graffiti. Superintendent John Ahlgrim alluded to the presidential election in an email to parents.
Of Warren's 4,267 students, about 46 percent are white, 29 percent Hispanic, 10 percent Asian and 10 percent black, according to the most recent 2015-16 Illinois State Board of Education report card.