The students in Theresa Manera's fifth grade class at Rhodes Elementary School are on a mission to stop the graffiti artists ruining their school playground, and other areas around the city of Cranston.
As part of their Project Citizen project, a civics-based program, the students must come up with a problem, research the problem and its possible solutions and then create a presentation binder and display board based on their work. They will be presenting their board and work to a panel of guests later this week.
"We have found that the graffiti on the Rhodes playground and around Cranston has gotten worse lately,” said student Seamus Stepalavich.
The Parks and Recreation Department in Cranston recently visited the class. Although the playground is adjacent to the school, it is actually a city playground and therefore, the responsibilities for its upkeep belong to the city, not the schools.
"They gave us anti-graffiti spray because the kids wanted to be the ones to remove the graffiti on the playground," said Manera.
The class has also been in contact with Senator Joshua Miller, School Committee member Steven Bloom, Director of Parks and Recreation Tony Libatore and Representative Arthur Handy about the graffiti issue.
"Mr. Bloom brought a Wikipedia page with him about the 'Broken Windows Theory,'" said Noah Rennick. "It says that when you see an abandoned house with broken windows and no one fixes it, people are going to be inclined to vandalize it more and more because the people don't care about the house, but if you fix it, people will be less likely to do more vandalism."
Through their research, the students learned that graffiti and other damage affects more than just the damaged item, whether it's a house or a piece of playground equipment.
"Graffiti affects the quality of the neighborhood and portrays the people of that neighborhood as being not so good," said Jacob McLane.
His classmate agreed, and shared more information they've learned.
"If the graffiti is removed immediately, then the people doing it might think that it's no use, not worth their effort, to come back and do it again," said Lia Dietrich.
Manera's students learned that recent vandals at the nearby Doric Park were in fact caught in the act, thanks to onsite security cameras.
"They had to pay a fine and pay for how much time, effort, supplies and man-hours were used to clean up the graffiti," said Sidney Alneida.
The punishment served as a deterrent, the students learned.
"They never sprayed again," said Alneida.
Steven Bloom told the class that the amount of man-hours and supplies is significant when cleaning up the work of vandals.
"He said that when people write graffiti on buildings, it has to be sandblasted off and that open spaces that aren't monitored have the most damage," said Daniel Wong.
Vandalism is a crime that the students learned is often perpetrated by a certain sector of the population.
"We found out that kids who do graffiti have parents who probably aren't in their lives as much, or have very little supervision. Those tend to be the biggest perpetrators," said Allie Notarianni.
The students discussed the option of having a designated space for graffiti artists to do their "work" with Senator Miller, who had visited London and other areas in Europe who practice that option.
"That might help," said Dylan April. "For the actual artists who want to do it as art."
As part of their Project Citizen requirements, the students developed a class policy to solve the problem.
"If the person is caught, they have to buy all the supplies and take down the graffiti that they did, by themselves," said Rennick.
In conjunction with their Project Citizen work, the class also visited the State House, taking a tour of the building and sitting in the seats of the representatives for a mock trial.
They will present all of their research at Rhodes Elementary to the head of Project Citizen and the Center for Civic Education on Wednesday of this week. Parents are invited to attend as well as any of the previous guests to the classroom who have helped out with the project.