| The first thing you notice is the noise, then
the smell and then the disrepair. In our orderly brick schoolhouses,
there's one room that most health departments would condemn:
"Check this out," says Tom Keating, giving a tour
of a broken down bathroom and pointing to an exposed toilet
stall. "Basically, you're having your most intimate moment
and you have no door."
Keating, a former teacher, has launched his own mission to
clean and fix public school bathrooms. It's called Project
CLEAN (Citizens, Learners, and Educators Against Neglect).
"I mean, look at this thing, there's nothing in there,"
he says, pointing to an empty soap dispenser.
Many students agree with Keating's assessment.
"Sometimes, the toilets are all clogged up; the stalls
are falling apart," 14-year-old Jessica says.
"The sanitary boxes won't be changed for days,"
says Emily, 14.
"Some of them are just completely nasty; toilet paper
all over the floor," 10-year-old Devin adds.
According to one poll from USA Weekend,
43% of middle and high school students in public schools say
bathrooms are so gross they actually avoid them.
"What I do, I hold - I use the restroom in the morning
time before I go to school," Devin explains.
The grime is a health risk, but Keating says a larger issue
exists: It's difficult to teach kids respect for education
if, every day, parents and teachers and students put up with
dirty, broken-down bathrooms. He says a good way to start
would be to change all the signs from "Boys" and
"Girls" to "Men" and "Women."
He says if you treat kids like adults, they are more likely
to act like adults.
"You don't start with big issues, you don't start with
changing test scores, you start with soap," Keating says.
"You start with soap and towel and tissues and doors,
and making sure there's temperate water, and then you teach
the kids by example, by discussion."
A discussion, he says, that points out that a clean bathroom
is the responsibility of the kids
not just the janitor
at the school.
"If they want to have a better place to use the bathroom
or wash their hands or all that, they should work on that
themselves," Emily says.