As a member of Corbett Prep's Middle School student council last year, Ben Smith proposed transforming a drab wall by the school parking lot into a beautiful mural.
Then came quarantine. Corbett Prep shifted to classes entirely off campus for the rest of the 2019-20 school year. When the 2020-21 school year began, families chose between on-campus and remote learning, pushing teachers to tap into their creativity to find ways to generate excitement and safely cultivate a sense of community.
Teachers Jim Vyverberg and Matt Melnick thought it was the perfect opportunity to revive Ben's idea. Working on a mural would bring students together in a positive way while they learned art fundamentals and gave back to the school at the same time.
Vyverberg, the Middle School's art teacher, and Melnick, who teaches design and technology, began the project with the eighth grade class in the fall. In February, they unveiled the final result – an eye-catching 170-foot mural with the message "We Are One Community. We Are Corbett Prep."
The 60 eighth graders worked in groups and on their own, designing panels for each letter. Some highlighted favorite Corbett Prep memories, such as the seventh-grade trip to the mountains or the fifth-grade boat races. Some used their space as a place to express themselves and their personal style or to experiment with patterns and color.
Ben, now in eighth grade, featured a cheerful peacock family – Corbett Prep's unofficial mascot – against a yellow backdrop, his favorite color. He began planning his design when he was learning remotely and finished it when he returned to campus. He hopes people smile when they see the entire mural.
"It makes me really happy that my idea came to life," he said.
Lessons in Art and Logistics
The Middle School art curriculum this year emphasizes the principles of art, such as proportion and balance, which tied in to the mural panels. Before they painted on the wall, they practiced mapping out their work on a grid to see how their ideas might translate to a larger scale. Did they have too many tiny details for a large wall? Did they need to adjust the design to accommodate for the rough texture?
Eighth graders Katie Kissel and Evelyn McRory picked a fire and ice theme because they wanted to explore two contrasting patterns for their design. They tried out different brushes to create an ombre effect, and they discovered that their checkerboard background was more challenging than expected thanks to the bumpy surface.
Melnick and Vyverberg, meanwhile, had to focus on the logistics. They divided each class so they could spread the students out for safety while they painted. They laid out the individual panels first on the computer to see if they worked together and sketched out all the letters in advance using a projector mounted to a car.
The teachers emphasized to the students that a mural is a form of art that people will see for years so they should work hard on their designs to make their contributions to the final piece meaningful and enduring. The end result reflects both individuality and unity, and Melnick hopes making the mural was a rewarding process for the students: "It's exciting to create artwork that you know will be seen."