They wore red and gray T-shirts and sweaters, proclaiming their memberships in different groups: Softball. Choir. Cheerleading. Basketball. Crew. Tennis. Instrumental Music. Football.
But on Monday, the Ferris High School students were all on the same team, working side by side to do some cleaning – of a rancher that fellow students trashed two weeks ago, and of their school’s name, which has been tarnished by other troubling incidents in past months.
About 180 students and 15 teachers spent their first day of spring break scrubbing walls and windows, boxing personal possessions and throwing out trash.
The owner, Karen Chute, inherited the house from her father when he died 10 years ago. Chute moved to Seattle in 2000, and has come back to Spokane on weekends to work on the house and attend events such as Bloomsday.
A neighbor called her on a recent Tuesday to tell her the house had been broken into and vandalized. Chute drove into town that night and said she felt violated by what she found at her childhood home.
“They left nothing untouched,” Chute said. “Nothing.”
Black graffiti, unintelligible except for an anarchy sign, dirtied the basement walls. A family photograph from the 1800s was ripped. Chests of drawers in every room were upended and rummaged through. Hydraulic fluid was poured onto the carpet, beds and clothing. Shaving cream smeared a mirror in the living room.
Nicole Harnetiaux, a 14-year-old freshman, attacked the shaving cream with Clorox Clean Up. “It’s kind of sad because all these freshmen tried to be badasses and show they can do whatever they want,” Harnetiaux said, referring to the several students charged with vandalizing the place. “It’s embarrassing. But we’re here to try to help and make things right.”
The cleaned mirror went outside to join piles of other household items that were to be sorted while the inside was cleaned.
The students not only tidied the mess their classmates left, but did extra work, such as cutting hedges and cleaning the front and back yards, said Fred Lam, a 17-year-old junior.
It was “our version of extreme makeover,” Lam said. He sees Ferris as a second family, and compared his participation in the cleaning to an older sibling trying to fix a wrong committed by younger brothers and sisters.
After a pizza lunch donated by Papa John’s, English teacher Todd Bender organized the kids in an assembly line. They dumped trash and ruined items – newspapers from 1970, a broken radio – into sturdy black bags. They sent things to be saved – Christmas lights, badminton rackets – down to the basement and into the house.
Some items were mistakenly thrown away – including Chute’s wedding dress – but later retrieved, Chute said. Although the huge turnout inevitably meant some confusion, Chute said she appreciated the students’ enthusiasm.
Bender was impressed by student attendance, especially because teachers only began advertising the cleanup event on Thursday.
Although the school doesn’t have a right to discipline the responsible students, Bender said, it sent a message by organizing this event.
“There are 200 kids picking up your mess,” he said. “It’s not accepted here.”