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Coast and Northwest Cities | WESTMINSTER

Bristling With Pride

Through Operation Clean Slate, elementary students take brushes in hand to learn concept of community service

December 09, 1999|ALEX MURASHKO | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Operation Clean Slate founder Mike Howard's idea of helping students gain respect for their school and community is to give them a paintbrush. His supervised public art plan was put to a test Wednesday at Westminster's Ray M. Schmitt Elementary School.

As more than 60 students took their turn brushing paint on a mural of the U.S. flag and a world encircled with people, success was evident in at least one area: The kids had fun.

As students--draped in colorful, paint-splattered, oversized T-shirts--stepped up to the playground wall to take their turn, Howard gave them a crash course in mural painting. With sometimes tentative, sometimes brisk strokes, the students got right to work. Many were in their element.

"Do we just paint once?" Diana Guevara, 8, asked after reluctantly stepping away from the mural when her turn was up.

"In my old school, we didn't have this," the third-grader said.

Diana and her fellow painters were selected from the school's 650 students to take part in the mural project, the theme of which was "'High Achievement for All Students." Students were chosen either on citizenship standing or by the luck of a draw.

Student Body Vice President Thanh To, 10, said the mural represented people "living in harmony." He had never painted on a wall before and thought it was a good idea to be a part of something positive.

As the afternoon project progressed, Howard's vision of creating more youthful respect in the world seemed to be working.

"Painting nice pictures is good [instead] of bad words," said Thanh, a fifth-grader.

During the afternoon, teachers and parents pitched in to outline the tough parts, such as the human figures and narrow parts of nations.

The kindergartners involved walked away with big smiles after putting in their strokes' worth.

Diana Guevara said she usually enjoys painting "nice houses with yards filled with grass and flowers." She paused, then said the mural meant "we should keep the world clean."

Operation Clean Slate is a campus and community beautification program based in Costa Mesa. It has been operating as a nonprofit for seven years. Westminster Wal-Mart sponsored the event as part of the chain's Adopt-A-School program.

Alex Murashko may be reached at (714) 966-5974.

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