R-JENERATION: Cheyenne High School program aims to combat vandalism by displaying graffiti art

It wasn’t what students were expecting to see.

Students of Cheyenne High School arriving on campus early last year saw the wall above the theater in their quad had been tagged by students who broke into the school and vandalized the property with a student-based gang sign.

The damage was costly.

"The line between vandalism and painting is permission," says Michael McGreal, an art teacher at the school.

As a result, April Key, Cheyenne principal, proposed that students who want their art displayed would have a place to legally do so. As soon as Jose Rodriguez, a Cheyenne junior, heard of the proposal, the program began to take shape.

Over the summer, Rodriguez brought in his sketches and began working with McGreal and Key to make a display that they thought could beautify the school.

Getting student submissions approved, however, is no short process. First, students interested in participating must bring in their sketches to McGreal. The students receive a permission slip that must be signed by their parents and returned before the sketches are scanned and sent to Principal Key.

Key then reviews the photo and permission slip and forwards it to Paul Gerner, Clark County associate superintendent of facilities. After his approval, the sketch also is sent to the police to ensure there are no gang-related symbols being used.

Once the painting is completed, it is outlined with Key’s signature color, pink, to show that it had been approved. There is, literally, a pink outline shadowing the work of art.

The first spot they decided to display the artful graffiti was on doors leading from two science classrooms in the upstairs 900 hallways.

Rodriguez is not the only student interested in the program.

"Tons and tons of students (want to participate)," McGreal says. "There is a line."

McGreal says he does not see any sort of ending to the program in the near future.

"There’s no limit on how much work will be produced," he says. "I plan to build my program here."

He says positive feedback on the project will allow students to feel ownership of the school.

Hayli Warburton, a senior at Cheyenne, has a different opinion.

"I do promote graffiti art, however, the graffiti that I have seen around the school is tacky and distasteful," she says. "It’s more like tagging. … The school will continue to be tagged because now there is a loophole concerning acceptability. No bueno."

Warburton says that she has spoken with other students and that she knows she is not alone in her opinion of the "tacky" environment.

Rodriguez argues that it has been a great opportunity and encourages others to try to express themselves through art like he has.

It takes about a month and a half, with permission, to get each project on the walls and McGreal expects to see much more around the school this year. Currently, he is working with multiple students and multiple works of art to help give the school a new look.

"They’re artists and they want to paint," he says. "Their canvas is different but that is fine."

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