Brownsville Station’s 1973 hit “Smokin’ in the Boys’ Room” used to be a staple of classic rock radio, celebrating the cliché that “boys will be boys.”
The song, however, did not address the costs of making the lavatory into a party spot. In 1975, the New York Times reported that bathroom misbehavior was costing New Jersey schools $17.7 million a year. A classic study of the underlying causes of school vandalism, published in the journal Education back in 1988, estimated the yearly cost to the nation at $500 million. That number — inflation aside — may be even higher today, as acts of senseless destruction are amplified and imitated thanks to social media.
The costs to taxpayers are significant even in Cheshire. The School District’s Director of Facilities Services, Richard Clavet, estimated that, in 2019, costs stemming from bathroom vandalism came in at approximately $60,000. Another cost, borne by the responsible majority of students, comes when someone needs to use the bathroom and finds it in damaged condition.
To remedy the problem, a group of Cheshire High School students is on a mission to help stop the trashing of school property and hold their classmates to a higher standard.
Cheshire High School Business Teacher Mark Pizzi says he was prompted to found the Boys Bathroom Improvement Squad (BBIS) after hearing multiple reports from students about deteriorated conditions that closed some restrooms down, making long trips and uncomfortable waits necessary. He credits the students for taking an idea and executing it.
“The driving factor behind this idea is that it is completely student-led, and the course for change has very little to do with any demands or direction from authority,” said Pizzi. “I think the students have gotten to the point where not taking action is no longer an option. I just helped them create the means for action, and now there is some strong movement that is growing organically.”
The BBIS’s objective is “improving bathroom conditions so that issues of cleanliness and civility are no longer factors for male students.”
“Responding to surveys and statistics that painted a grim picture on bathroom use, while magnifying the problems and pressures that male students face, the BBIS created ‘Operation Take-back,’ which is meant to take back the bathrooms from the few students who have caused an unsettling bathroom environment,” Pizzi explained.
The BBIS includes 30 ‘squad leaders’ who sign up in groups of three for one of several designated time slots throughout each day and perform a 15-minute walk-through, or “sweep” of the eight bathrooms in the school in order to ensure that cleanliness standards are suitable for student use. Each bathroom is tagged with a large BBIS approval stamp, indicating time and period, so that the student body has an easily-visible notice that a particular bathroom is free from any issues of debris, vandalism, or uncivil behavior, per Pizzi.
Although part of the group’s motivation is showing more respect for the school’s hardworking custodial staff, the mission of the BBIS “is not to clean bathrooms.”
“The call,” stated Pizzi, “is actually a whole lot cooler: to re-craft the mindset in the building by virtue of a non-confrontational and consistent presence. I really want the male students, and our student community overall, to realize that the current plight of the boys’ bathrooms does not have to be this way.”
Seeking to quantify improvements by keeping track of data is also part of the BBIS project, but the quality of life is already trending in the right direction, according to the group.
Michael DeJoseph, a CHS senior and key contributor to the larger Safe School Climate Committee, commented, “I got involved in the BBIS because I wanted to help other people. This is one of the best ways to do that right now. The notion of students coming together and showing unity for the common good is definitely cool.”
Cobe Zhang, another student leader on the committee, shares the positive sentiment, saying, “It’s nice seeing that so many people wanted to get involved with this. I could feel the strong energy of the group from the very first meeting. The greatest benefit, I think, will be that the incoming freshmen next year will see that the bathrooms are clean (and) this will encourage them to keep the high standards. The whole experience of the BBIS has taught me that if people want change, they really have to take ownership themselves. It’s a really strong message.”
Pizzi credits the support of administrators such as CHS Principal Dr Mary Gadd and Assistant Principal Dan Tartarelli, as well as the students, for the success of the program.
“I give a lot of acknowledgement to (Gadd) for creating the type of school climate where a unique initiative of this dimension could easily take shape,” he said. “She’s forward-thinking, and quickly saw the potential for the peripheral gain that stems from the experience of self-organizing to impact a cause.”
“Whenever you’re showing students how to organize and convert passion into responsible reaction, I think there’s a powerful life lesson in that,” Pizzi concluded.