By Pablo Jaime Sáinz
Not many years ago, Granger Junior High, in National City, was a cradle for gangs, student underachievement, and graffiti. Overall, it was just a plain bad environment.
Today, the school and its students are thriving. Thanks to overall changes implemented by the principal and the administration, gangs are virtually gone.
Now it’s all about being the best.
The Associated Student Body organizes dances where safety is a priority. It also creates lots of extracurricular activities to keep kids off the streets.
The athletic program attracts many students, who in turn devote their time and energy to positive activities.
There’s also a student newspaper, the “Griffin Times”, which covers lots of issues that are important to the school.
As soon as you walk on campus, you can see the difference. You see many messages nicely painted on the walls. Positive murals with positive messages such as “Honesty + Integrity” and “Perseverance + Determination” have replaced the graffiti that used to cover the school walls several years ago.
Those murals, according to some administrators, have made a great difference in the students. And they were painted by a Granger parent, Agustin Lugo, who volunteered to use his artistic skills for a good cause.
“What motivated me at first was that my son is still in this school. But now I’m motivated because I see that my work is promoting positive change among all students,” said 69-year-old Lugo, who’s the proud father of three Granger graduates and one current student. His oldest son graduated from Granger 22 years ago.
The administration had the idea of painting these murals more than a year ago.
Rick Grove, Associated Student Body adviser and teacher, said they wanted to spice up the school a bit.
“The murals Mr. Lugo is doing are the visual extension of what we’re doing on campus,” he said.
Grove said he was a teacher at Granger back in 1997. He said the campus was “much different. There was a lot of gang violence. We have turned that around. Today, we have an environment of pride. I can see the difference.”
And the murals have a lot to do with it, he said. He even added that the students are doing fundraisers to pay for part of the costs of the murals.
“It’s instilling pride among the students. It’s telling students that just because you’re from National City doesn’t mean you can’t go to college,” Grove said.
The first mural Lugo made was about a year ago, inside the school cafeteria. It reads, “Expect More, Achieve More.”
“My goal is to create a better environment for students,” he said. “Now it is really quiet. There’s discipline. There are no fights.”
Campus Assistant Pat John-son is in charge of school security. She said that she agrees with Lugo: Granger is a better place now.
“Some parents have told me that they’re noticing the change at home as well. The signs have been a major part of that. Gangs have slowly disappeared. I’ve been working here for years, and as a National City native, I feel proud that these kids are doing better,” Johnson said. “They like these things,” she said, pointing to a couple of murals that read “Positive Attitude + Enthusiasm” and “Safety, Security + Respect.”
Lugo spends about three hours a day painting. He’s been working at the school for a little bit more than a year, and he said it will take him about a month more to finish all the planned murals. His wife has also helped paint some of the murals.
Lugo said he receives a small stipend for doing the murals, but it is a symbolic sum, he said.
“Since I come daily, I use that money to buy the paint, to pay for gasoline,” he said.
This week, Lugo was finishing a large sign near the arts building at Granger. It asks students, “What will be your legacy?”
For Lugo, who volunteers his time for different community causes, it’s about being a role model for children.
“I want to serve as an example, that when you live without drugs and alcohol, and that when you do the right thing, you’re blessed.”