TRAVERSE CITY — Traverse City High School's entry has been transformed from dull and dingy into a bright, new gathering place.
Sheryl Chandler served as the school's custodian from September through March, when she took a full-time position at Central Grade School. While at the alternative high school, Chandler decided to do something about a neglected, unattractive area right inside the school's front door.
If first impressions matter and atmosphere determines attitude, as Chandler believes, then this dismal entry needed help. She decided to clean it up and make it inviting, completing the change on her own time. The effort included hours of work invested even after she'd started her new job.
"I just wanted to create an inviting seating area where people could meet," said Chandler, who also intended the upgrade to boost school spirit. "It is so great to see the school getting upgraded."
Coordinating her efforts with principal Lance Morgan, Chandler patched and painted the wall and landed a grant from Art Van for a new couch and love seat. She also worked with the district to have a sill built for an indoor landscaping area.
Chandler and her husband, Kevin, hauled in 700 pounds of sand to fill the area behind the sill. This raised up a bed to showcase the potted plants and flowers, inscribed rocks and other decorations she installed. A grant from Great Lakes Auto & Marine Paint Supply helped fund this landscaping. The Chandlers donated a rug, situated between the furniture to provide living room mojo.
Leelanau artist Dennis Gerathy accepted Chandler's invitation and painted the school mascot, a Mustang, on the wall.
"He gifted us with his time, talent and materials and we are very thankful," Chandler said. "While he was actually doing the painting, the kids would come up and talk to him."
Principal Morgan believes the finished area, completed in March, makes the school more inviting.
"It feels like a family room which is exactly what TCHS is about ... family," he said. "This was entirely Sherri's baby. She came up with the entire idea by herself and then did all the necessary legwork to make it happen."
Students now hang out in the entry before and after school or between classes, visiting or waiting for a ride. They take pride in their sitting area, Morgan said.
"It gives them the feeling that TCHS is a welcoming place and that they are proud of their school," he said.
Although at the school only about seven months, Chandler relished her time at Traverse City High School. She appreciated how the staff and teachers "go above and beyond" their duties for the students.
"This was a really great school to work at," Chandler said.
Even before she tackled the school's entry, one missing element she worked on for the students was celebrating holidays and milestones. Chandler began decorating the whole school for special occasions or seasonal themes and the students loved it. She left boxes organized by holidays for staff to continue the tradition.
"This school is special, though, because most schools have PTOs or committees for fundraising, they have none of that," Chandler said.