SOUTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — A large red block of paint fills the neat boundaries of a parking space behind South Kingstown High School. Stenciled in the middle is a not-so-subtle message that can be seen if a car isn’t parked in space number 79.
“DON’T TELL MY MOM I’M LATE” the lettering, with white borders defining this specific parking spot, proclaims to anyone passing by.
One of many messages and designs in the SKHS student parking lot, seniors are putting their individual stamps on boring blacktop, accenting the same trend found in paint-your-own pottery or porcelain and even self-portraits on canvas.
“With our school year being so messed up, it sort of makes you feel it’s more your own,” said Madeline Marshall, senior class treasurer.
“It’s your parking spot, it’s your own and it makes people come in person and do it rather than just something virtual. Because it’s our senior year, it makes it more special,” she said of the reasons the class started this first-ever personalization of parking for the soon-to-be departing class.
And that’s just the point, too, Marshall and some other students told The Independent last week. With all the COVID restrictions on getting together, there’s little the class does in-person and as a group to cement that never-passing-this-way again feeling as they go through their senior year.
Even Seventeen magazine, the bi-monthly glossy for teenage girls, remarked on the nationwide trend of high school students painting the place where their car – another coming-of-age symbol for this group – awaits their return from the still-required attendance in school.
“Decorating your locker is officially so 2000 and late, because high school seniors have started decorating something waaaaaaay more epic: their parking spaces,” the magazine declared in a 2016 piece when the trend started growing.
In South Kingstown, another reason also lay behind the start – as a prank, “neighboring high school students” painted graffiti in the lot.
“That’s why there are big black patches on the parking lot. And it was on the side of the shed, it was graffitied,” said Mary Kutcher, teacher and senior class advisor.
“It was a combination of that we needed to fix it up and a lot of our activities got canceled, and it gave us an opportunity to do something as a class,” she said.
With those patches covering up the damage wrought by the invaders, growing numbers of colorful and uniquely designed spaces overshadow them, casting the repairs only as images of indiscriminate black paint.
Seizing the opportunity to turn an offensive moment into something positive, more than 70 students submitted designs to Kutcher and the senior class’s other advisor and teacher, Amanda Varone, for approval.
They dot the various spots throughout the ordinarily drab-looking parking lot in the back of the school.
A green hand-drawn flower outlined in black simply says, “be kind,” the slogan of Ben’s Bells, the Tucson, Arizona-originated program that aims to promote kindness throughout the local community. Senior Morgan Gutelius has started a chapter at SKHS.
She said that she asked the senior class to help promote the parking lot painting as part of her chapter’s project for the school.
Another space, Number 26, has all in white, “IF YOU’RE READING THIS MY CAR WON’T START,” an ominous warning about a day with a bad beginning for another student.
Welcoming the new day with a colorful yellow half circle-shaped sun against a blue sky background is space Number 25 by simply “TH” in one corner and “2021,” the graduating class year, in another.
Tapping into the decades-old game Monopoly, the student with SKHS parking space Number 138 recreated the game’s famous card with a light-blue-background with red and white antique car with the black letters saying, “FREE PARKING.”
Paint, buckets, brushes and other materials were donated both by CertaPro Painters of Southern Rhode Island and Ace Hardware, both in South Kingstown.
Earl Gelineau, owner of CertaPro Painters, said he heard from his wife, who works at the school, about the need for the supplies. His son, Nick, is also a SKHS senior.
“I recognized that these advisors were working so hard to come up with creative activities that are safe for students to participate in and I knew that I could help them out with donations,” he explained in an interview with The Independent.
“I appreciate that the students are being able to look forward to being a part of something, when so many things have been taken away or changed dramatically,” he added.
Kutcher said, “A lot of our activities got canceled and it gave us an opportunity to do something as a class. We’re trying to think of new events to do this year because the ones we usually do, we really don’t want to do them virtually. They are not as much fun.”
Aiden Symington is the senior class chair of social activities. He looked at the designs that are popping up as scheduled times – and social distancing – allow for painting them. He smiled broadly.
“Even as we were social distancing, we still got to be with each other as a class, which is really important,” he said.