MADISONVILLE, Ky. (WEHT) — A retiring Madisonville school teacher has found a way to give back to the school where her journey began. Heather VanWinkle is using her artistic talents to encourage students through bathroom murals.

Brooklyn Boggs, Sebree Elementary school’s principal, describes Mrs. VanWinkle as a core component of the school’s community. 

“Mrs. Heather is the definition of Seebree. If you look at Seebree elementary school in the dictionary her picture should be next to it,” said Boggs.

 After nearly 30 years of pouring into the hearts and minds of students, Vanwinkle has been pouring paint to illustrate affirmations on the stalls in restrooms around the school building.  

“I’ve just done the girls upstairs bathroom. We’re gonna do the boys upstairs, and then we have a girls bathroom and a boys bathroom downstairs,” said VanWinkle. 

The school’s principal says after asking the ESL teacher to handscript school bulletin boards, and receiving birthday gifts and office art with the teacher’s hand lettering — involving her in pushing the school’s core values was a no brainer. 

“We promote a lot of self-image and a lot of self-talk to our kiddos, so we thought them all visiting the bathrooms in between classes and stuff would be a great way for them to see this positive reinforcement throughout the day,” said Boggs.

Vanwinkle has been in her current position for the past 7 years, but started at the school, 29 years ago,  as a speech pathologist. School officials say nearly 52% of the students at Seebree attribute English as their second language. VanWinkle says she hopes the art reflects the school’s diverse student body well.

 “They should have daily reminders of how special they are, how they’re not like anybody else, [and] that theyre beautiful in their own way,” said VanWinkle.

The muralist is set to retire in October, and she’s worked at the elementary school for her entire career journey. She says she views the opportunity to paint the murals as a way to leave her mark forever.  

“I hope I’ve left a little bit more than just some painting on the wall, but I do know that just to know that there’s just a little bit of me left here when I leave…that’s pretty special,” said VanWinkle.