The girls' bathroom at Schoolcraft Learning Community, a K-8 public school in Bemidji, has been given a major makeover, but not because of new stalls or fresh paint.
Hundreds of sticky notes in a variety of shapes, colors and sizes are posted on the walls, stalls, mirrors and even the ceiling in the bathroom. Each note has a phrase like "You are beautiful," "Beauty is not Photoshopped!" and "Smile! You deserve it!" written on it.
The sticky note explosion started when Shelly Olson, a staff member at SLC, posted several notes in the girls' bathroom. She remembers writing "True beauty comes from the heart, not the mirror" on one of the notes.
Olson got the idea from operationbeautiful.com, a website that promotes leaving anonymous, positive messages on sticky notes in public areas, such as on a bathroom mirror, in a gym locker room or on a car windshield.
"I thought 'I'm just going to experiment with this because girls are so mean to themselves,'" Olson said.
She left a bucket with sticky notes and markers in the bathroom and left. One day later it was clear the students caught on.
Eighth-grader Kali Benson said she did not know about the sticky notes until her friend asked if she had been in the bathroom.
"I went in there and I looked and I was like 'What the heck is this?'" she said. "I had no idea what was going on."
Benson saw the beginning of what would become a daily ritual - students posting messages on sticky notes and leaving them for others to find later.
In less than two weeks notes were posted from the floor to the ceiling. One sticky note posted on the garbage bin in the SLC girls' bathroom reads "Don't throw yourself away." Another note in a bathroom stall reads "Do not flush your life away, your talents, your happiness, your love, your smile."
"I remember the first time I walked in there I saw a note that said 'Beautiful is spelled Y-O-U,' said sixth-grader Sophie Warrick.
The bathroom users agree the notes have been good for school morale.
"It has had a really positive change in a lot of people," seventh-grader Abbey Bakke said. "If you are feeling down, you can walk into the bathroom and see all these positive things written about you."
Caitlin Boyle, the founder and editor of the Operation Beautiful website, stated her mission was to have people post anonymous notes in public places for other women to find. But men have also become involved in the mission.
At SLC, so far, the majority of the notes have been directed toward women.
"I think it has helped a lot of people because some people need to feel good about themselves but they don't know how to feel good about themselves," said fifth-grader Katya Kivi.
Fourth-grader Christina Marin said she found it interesting the notes started in the bathroom, but she understands why.
"Mainly when girls get upset, they run into the bathroom," she said.
Tallulah Chernugal said was surprised to see how fast the sticky notes caught on.
"I think it lifts other people's spirits up and makes them feel better about themselves," she said. "I think it helps other people to feel beautiful about the way they are."
Olson said she is proud the students have not abused the note-writing privilege.
"I thought I would to have to police it and take down the bad ones, but I've never had to take one down," Olson said.
"Peer pressure can be positive," she later added.
Despite the anonymity of the activity, Olson said she has noticed some students have written messages intended for themselves.
"It's really neat to see them be nice to each other and yet at the same time they are being nice to themselves," Olson said. "When you write a note, you affirm to yourself you need that message."
"I don't think in other schools you would be able to do this," Bakke said. "It's really uplifting to walk in and you see all these notes meant to make you happy.
"When anyone is crabby, we tell them to go to the bathroom," seventh-grader Caitlin Pickett said.
Brett Cease, a paraprofessional at SLC, has also heard from students the impact the notes have made.
"It's an awareness everyone is excited about," he said. "It's a big testament to the psychology behind humans. All it takes is somebody like Shelly learning online and doing a small adaptation. It just shows the beauty of the human spirit that we are fundamentally good."
Since SLC uses its Concordia Language Villages campus for the school year, the sticky notes will have to be taken down before summer break. Some of the students came up with the idea to take the sticky notes from the bathroom and reuse them at other public places around the community.
For now, the notes remain in the bathroom, with new ones added daily. It may not be long before the mirrors disappear and all that is left are notes that state, "You are beautiful!"