After Aztec High School shooting, annual project shares message of hope

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AZTEC, N.M. — In 2017, Aztec High School was the scene of a horrifying tragedy when a former student brought a gun to the school, killing two students before turning the gun on himself.

After such a traumatic event, Aztec High School was left to pick up the pieces.

“The second year anniversary, admin told teachers don’t worry about doing some sort of specific curriculum thing – just take a day to commemorate or bring some positivity,” said Fritz Polk, a U.S. history and economics teacher at Aztec High.

So, Polk and his students started brainstorming.

“I wonder if we could do… they always talk about reach for the ceiling, reach for the sky. We’re going to reach for the ceiling, and pull it down and put paint on it, and put it back up,” Polk said.

That idea became a tradition, and over the last three years, plain white ceiling tiles got a dose of artistic expression.

“The first year, as you can see from these tiles, it was just kind of free flow do whatever you want just leave some sort of something of yourself and it’s evolved to now, that we’re required that they have a message,” he said.

The project hopes to share a positive message for future students.

“One student left a dark legacy for Aztec High School, and that’s not what we want to be known for,” Polk said. “So hopefully hundreds of students in the years to come will leave a legacy of light and life, love, hope.”

“I really like how we got to share the last thing on our hearts,” said Taylor Todd, a junior at Aztec High School. “My tile has all kinds of Bible verses, all around the mountains that spoke to me.”

In the wake of the Nashville school shooting, Polk’s students are making cards to send to the Nashville students.