When Vallecito Elementary School students return to their school, they will see an outdoor mural that graduating 5th graders left for them – all of it created through distance learning.
Youth in Arts had just begun a partnership with the San Rafael school when the coronavirus pandemic forced it to close. Pivoting quickly, Program Director Kelsey Rieger worked with Principal Elizabeth Foehr and teachers Erin Baker, Robin Hassan, Sarah Lai, Julie McKeon and Hildie Sims to find a way to do the mural digitally. The project included 5th graders from five different classes.
“The teachers and the staff are the ones that made it happen, hands down,” Kelsey said. “The school still really wanted to provide this opportunity for the 5th graders, especially since Shelter in Place was taking a lot of their last year away from them.”
First, Kelsey filmed short instructional videos from home that explained the project. Students began by creating identity maps in the shape of a starburst. Kelsey explains, “We looked at the things that make up who we are, and what aspects of this identity we give to ourselves and also aspects given to us by other people. From there, each students created what we call a Power Word by choosing a part of their identity that they felt was most representative of who they are and that made them feel powerful.”
Students chose words like ardent, adventurous, creative, kind, ambitious, brave, and hopeful.
Using the Principles of Design, they then talked about how shape, color, texture and scale can be used to communicate messaging more effectively. Together, they also discussed typographical concepts and how to pay attention to spacing and shape to keep things legible. “Our goal was to create our own font for our Power Words that would further convey the meaning of that word based on the students’ interpretations and values,” Kelsey explains.
Students photographed their art and sent it to their teachers, who sent it directly to Kelsey. Again, teacher participation was key. Because Kelsey never saw the students, she relied on teachers to communicate any questions or areas that the students required more support in. “I wasn’t with them in the classroom, so I couldn’t respond to student cues like you normally do when you’re teaching something new,” Kelsey said.
Upon completion, the mural was created from over 80 Power Words using materials students had at home – colored pencils, regular pencils, paint and markers. A few artists created their work digitally. The completed collaged mural was delivered to the school, where it will be installed for fellow students to engage with when they return in the Fall.
“They did a great job,” Kelsey said. “The works were personal and thoughtful, and were excellent examples of how the arts can bring us together in extremely unique and unexpected ways.”
Special thanks to the Vallecito PTA, educators, and staff for helping to make this project possible.