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School murals in Hyattsville energize students, the community

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Posted on: October 22, 2018

By COLLEEN D. CURRAN — Parents, local artists and supportive faculty deserve credit for the new indoor and outdoor murals that energize the Hyattsville Elementary and Middle schools. The murals at both schools appeared around the same time this summer but are products of different projects.
Betsy Martin, a graphic designer and Hyattsville Elementary School (HES) parent came up with the idea to revamp the school wall. She received approval from the PTA, the principal and the administration, created a design and started work this past summer. Her husband Jeremy Glunt helped her paint.
Martin wanted to bring “something bright and fun” to the wall in front of the school, something that was “colorful and fun for the kids,” she said.
When painting the wall, people would stop and say things like “I turned the corner and I just feel energized,” said Martin. She thought, “Yes! That’s exactly what I was going for.”

 
Faculty are noticing, too.
“It’s made such a big difference,” said PTA president Meredith Ferdie Muth. “To them [the school faculty] it also demonstrated how much the parents and the community care about the school.”
The outdoor mural joins others that already line the interior of HES, giving life to the cafeteria, the entrance and classrooms.  
There are also murals on Jefferson Street that a fifth grade class designs annually. The students work with the Anacostia Watershed Society to learn about local ecosystems and habitats. The design then comes to life with the help of an artist. The murals give vitality to the school, parts of which are nearly 80 years old.
Donations, in-kind support to the PTA and parent engagement has helped burgeoning art projects at HES. “We have so many creative parents that are really active and eager to do more. This is one of those low-cost, effective ways where parents can really help the teachers,” Muth said.
Local businesses have partnered with the PTA to produce the indoor and outdoor art.
Green Owl Design, Art Works Now and Artist & Craftsman Supply Hyattsville – to name a few – have contributed money, supplies, time or other forms of support to assist the PTA’s past, current and future projects.
“So far we’ve been really, really happy with the level of support and the reaction that we’ve had by both people who work in the school and members of the community,” said Muth.
The PTA has plans to add more color to the nearby playground by painting the blacktop as well as painting more classrooms, as the murals are quite popular among the faculty. Temporary buildings are also being painted to energize that outside space.
Like the eager parents who supported more art for HES, it was faculty and staff at the Hyattsville Middle School (HMS) that found ways to make their building better represent the school’s arts program and its students.
“One of the first things I wanted to do when I first came to the school was to get murals in the building,” said Precious Carter, the Performing Arts Coordinator of the competitive Creative and Performing Arts Program at HMS.
“You didn’t get that feeling when you first drove up to the school,” that there was such an important arts program housed right here in Hyattsville, said Carter. “I wanted something there that showed music and a depiction of all of the disciplines.”
Carter is passionate about the CPA program, but even more so about the hardworking students. “They’re just a wonderful group of kids. Our goal is we’re developing dynamic students in the arts for college and career readiness,” she said. “What we try to do is strengthen their gifts for those students who want careers in the arts and to let them know it’s obtainable. It’s OK to be a person who’s artsy.”  
She wanted to make the aging building better reflect the students and the eight CPA disciplines at HMS, which include band, orchestra, visual arts, chorus, media arts, dance, theatre and creative writing.
Carter found local artist and Howard University alum, Shawn Perkins. He started by painting the walkway columns at the front of the school. He then created a full inside wall mural at HMS that includes instruments, ballet shoes, a movie reel and more to really highlight the heart of this school’s arts program.

A mural painted by Shawn Perkins inside Hyattsville Middle School shows the features the school’s Creative and Performing Arts Program. Photo by Colleen Curran

The students did not have input in determining what went in to the column and indoor wall mural designed by Perkins, but Carter said that’s the goal for the future. The visual art students are currently working with their teacher, painting murals throughout the school.
“They’re determining what the pieces of art are. They’re painting murals from their own ideas, or they have to creatively make something based on ideas we’re giving to them,” said Carter.
Funding for the columns and the indoor mural came in the form of support from the Foundation for the Advancement of Music and Education, as well as through school fundraisers.
Thorton Boone, HMS’s principal, fully supported the mural ideas. Carter is currenly working to produce another mural in the downstairs area near the dance studio.
Gabriela Navarro had a similar reaction to the HMS’s exterior when she started working there as the Parent Engagement Assistant & Community Outreach Coordinator about three years ago.
She wondered what the school could do to improve the physical appearance of the building to be more inviting and perhaps more representative of the foundational arts program that was inside.
“How do people know this is a CPA program when people drive by?” Navarro asked.
After months trying to locate an artist or group to produce a piece, Navarro found a valuable source at the Prince Georges African American Museum and Cultural Center in Brentwood, Education Coordinator Synatra Smith, who holds a doctorate in Global and Sociocultural studies.
Smith helped Navarro locate partial funding through grants and she also connected Navarro with artist Tramaine Wilkes, who started the mural in April and finished it early this fall. Navarro did in-school fundraising for the remaining costs.
“I want diversity, I want the students to be aware of what’s going on and I want students to associate themselves with what’s going on out there with people who are still alive,” Navarro said, reflecting on her approach for whom to include in the mural. Faculty and the community were asked whom they wanted to incorporate.
The mural is bright with yellows, oranges and blues and is home to many inspirational people including former President Barack Obama; Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai; Misty Copeland, a ballet dancer for the American Ballet Theatre, who in 2015 became the first African American woman to become principal dancer; and Colin Kaepernick, a former NFL quarterback and activist against racial injustice.
With the support of the school and community, and input from the faculty, the mural came together to capture Navarro’s goal of creating a piece for students to see important people who looked like them as they entered school each day.
It was Navarro who spearheaded the creation of the large mural that now lives outside HMS. It was Carter who worked for years to gain support for murals that better represented her talented students and the arts program that exists here in Hyattsville. And it was parents like Martin who, down the road at the nearby HES, were inspired to make their children’s experience at school more uplifting and playful through art.
Even though the projects are unrelated, what they have in common is that they were made with students and the community in mind. Each involved faculty members, staff or parents who saw an opportunity to use art as a way to make aging facilities more welcoming for their kids and more pleasant for the community.
“It’s reinforcing that these schools aren’t these stand-alone objects that sit in a neighborhood,” said Muth. “They are part of a community and communities appreciate that.”

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