Take Note

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No one can escape the stare of the old lady while walking down the halls of Essex High School in Essex Junction, Vt. From her place on every wall, by the stairs, and above doors, she knowingly smiles and points a finger at passing students.

Grandma is watching.

Grandma Helen.

"Grandma Helen"
—Courtesy of Michael Thompson

In an effort to curb hallway misbehavior, the school's Climate Committee decided to post pictures of the matronly 90-year-old, who is actually a teacher's grandmother-in-law.

"Our goal was just to have a humorous way to remind people, 'Here's a behavior that's expected of you in school,'" said Michael Thompson, a health teacher at the school.

A survey taken during the last school year revealed that students were concerned with inappropriate peer behavior in between classes, especially with foul language and public displays of affection. So the committee decided to act creatively without imposing new mandates, Mr. Thompson said.

The idea came up at a meeting at the end of the summer, he said, when a committee member commented, "This is just behavior you wouldn't do at a family reunion or in front of your grandmother."

And the campaign was born.

Pictures of the grandmother were posted throughout the 1,600-student school in September. But teachers held off on explaining them until last week to generate buzz and curiosity among students.

"For the most part, I think it's pretty well received," said Mr. Thompson, noting that the phrase "Grandma's watching!" has been catching on.

"With a friendly reminder," he said, "I think other kids are feeling comfortable saying things because they're clear what the expectations are."

The idea has garnered so much popularity that the committee soon plans to make Grandma buttons and to hold a luncheon with the star of the campaign, known as "Grandma Helen."

While Grandma has become an amusing icon of good manners and proper hallway etiquette, she still sends a serious message.

"When you look at the picture, this is what it reminds you of—behave," Mr. Thompson said.

—Olivia Doherty

Vol. 23, Issue 10, Page 3

Published in Print: November 5, 2003, as Take Note

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