City Hill students meet challenge with positive initiative

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By Andreas Yilma, Staff Writer

City Hill Middle School eighth-grader Ariana Acevedl paints a girls bathroom Oct. 22 at the school in Naugatuck. A group of students fixed up the bathroom to counter a social media challenge that encouraged students to damage bathrooms. –ANDREAS YILMA

NAUGATUCK — A group of eighth-grade students at City Hill Middle School are working to turn a negative into a positive.

In September, there was some minor damage done to a girls’ bathroom on the second floor of the school, according to officials. The damage, which include toilet paper being strewn on the floor and an attempt to rip off a soap dispenser, followed a trend of social media challenges across the country. Specifically, the “Devious Licks” challenge that encouraged students to capture and post video of them stealing or damaging school property on the social media platform TikTok.

Carolyn Laurentus, an eighth-grade language arts teacher, and about a dozen girls from the school’s gray team took it upon themselves to fix up and redecorate the bathroom to counter the negativity of the social media challenge.

On the afternoon of Oct. 22, about half a dozen girls were busy painting the bathroom pink as a clear plastic sheet covered the floor. They planned to paint the stalls, place garlands around the mirrors, and install a full-length mirror as part of the project. The project was expected to take about a week to finish.

“I got to tell you, they’re (students) really invested in this. It’s their space. … Just to make it a place for them so that they feel comfortable,” Laurentus said. “I think the better part of this is they’re doing it so they own it and they don’t want to see anybody else coming in to ruin it; trying to be positive about reversing what was going on, on TikTok.”

“That’s all you hear now is all the negative stuff,” Laurentus added. “I think it’s time to put that aside and showcase my girls and the school in general, all the good things that are happening.”

Laurentus said they are starting with the one bathroom, but the idea may be expanded to other teams and bathrooms in the school. She said the group is accepting donations of a dresser and an old bench for the bathroom. Anyone who wants to donate can contact Laurentus at the school, 203-720-5250.

Laurentus and City Hill Middle School Eileen Mezzo said the girls are taking ownership of their project and its positive impact on the school.

“They are proud of what they’re doing and they’re being shed in a good light,” Laurentus said. “They know that they’re making a positive influence in this school.”

Eighth grader Brianna Andoh said there’s a lot of negativity going around the school with different TikTok trends.

City Hill Middle School eighth-grader Sandra Levasseur paints a girls bathroom Oct. 22 at the school in Naugatuck. A group of students fixed up the bathroom to counter a social media challenge that encouraged students to damage bathrooms. –ANDREAS YILMA

“We just felt like we needed a safe environment for females to feel safe and just create positive change because this is something positive to balance out the negative,” Andoh said.

Mikaela Nieves, Andoh’s classmate, said the girls want to spark a change.

“We want other people to see it and be influenced by it, and also maybe go around schools, not us, but other schools be influenced and have them do the same thing that we’re doing so we can make that change for them, as well, so we can make an impact.” Nieves said.

Andoh said the girls created a TikTok account to showcase the project. As of Oct. 22, the account had more than 600 views of two videos posted. Students now want to do the boy’s bathroom, she said.

“I think that we’ve kind of fallen out this year. It’s been a hard couple of two years,” Andoh said. “Everything is going downhill, but we’re trying to bring it back up as a community. So, if anybody wants to try this, we would love for different schools to do this.”