High schools win praise for all sorts of things. They might be known for their test scores, their sports teams, the number of students they send to college.
But Annapolis High School is probably the only high school around that consistently wins praise for its bathrooms.
When Principal Donald Lilley joined the school in the middle of last year, he said, "the teachers were just telling me how great [the bathrooms] were, and the entire faculty was saying how positive an effect it's had on the school."
Even the parents and students comment on them, he said.
Five years ago, art teacher June Perry, now head of the art department, embarked on a project to have the students paint the bathroom walls -- floor to ceiling -- with colorful murals.
The results are impressive. In the men's room by the cafeteria, scenes of the Chesapeake Bay, including the Bay Bridge, a dock jutting out on the water, and "Chessie," the fictional monster of the bay, are depicted in shades of blue and brown. The women's room by the cafeteria is devoted to scenes of downtown Annapolis, and the women's room by the music suite has underwater scenes, including a shark, jellyfish and even a snorkeling panther in honor of the school mascot.
In some bathrooms, the stalls have also been painted.
But Perry and the students never tackled the bathrooms on the second floor. Karen Graff, who leads the newly formed National Art Honors Society, vows that the remaining four bathrooms will be painted this school year.
"That's part of our requirement and our agenda for this year," she said.
About 25 students attended the first meeting of the art society this week, an after-school program dedicated to beautifying the school, she said. They discussed various projects, including painting the bathrooms and creating a sanctuary where teachers can relax and perhaps do yoga, Graff said.
The plan is to keep the themes of the natural world and local landscapes when painting the upstairs bathrooms, but students may be inspired by the classes that are closest to the bathrooms to come up with other themes, Graff said.
According to Perry, the idea for adding murals to the bathrooms first came during a meeting in 2000 to discuss ways to discourage graffiti in the bathrooms of the school, which was built in 1979. Somebody came up with the idea of having teachers go in the bathrooms with markers and write academic things on the walls, Perry said.
"Like math problems, or words or maybe some poetry," she said. "But all I could see was that it would still look like graffiti."
Perry piped up to say that putting writing on the walls, even writing by teachers, didn't sound like it would be very pretty. She was asked if she had a better idea, and that's when Annapolis High bathroom history was made.
At that time, the school year was almost over, so Perry asked her students if anybody wanted to meet her during the summer to design some murals for the bathroom walls. About 15 students showed up, and three bathrooms were painted, Perry said. The remaining five downstairs bathrooms were painted during the 2000-2001 school year.
The immediate goal of quelling student graffiti has been achieved, Perry said.
"Every once in a while there will be a little graffiti on it, but not much," she said.
The murals in the eight downstairs bathrooms have become a point of pride for the school.
"I think it's a great addition," Lilley said.
But Perry said she has no desire to continue the project with the four unpainted bathrooms on the school's second floor.
"I'm kind of bathroomed out," she said, so the task falls to Graff.
Cleaning up, and getting the paints from the art department to the bathrooms were the biggest challenges, Perry said.
"We spilled a gallon of red paint down the middle of a brick walkway," she said. "That was the worst thing."
But painting the murals was a good learning experience for the kids and for Perry, she said.
"They learned how to paint large surfaces, how to obscure to show distances," she said. "It was such a wonderful experience for the kids."
Now a new generation of Annapolis High students will get a chance to share the same experience.