How a New Mural is Making Students Feel Seen at Rainier Valley Leadership Academy

mural

Rainier Valley Leadership Academy Middle School (RVLA MS) art teachers Margaret Ward and Gretchen Proulx saw the opportunity for messaging to students through art on the new walls of a permanent home for the school. “We knew we wanted to paint a mural in the new building,” said Ward. With the help of students’ creativity, they landed on a concept for the mural last spring.

“Our Muslim students have told us that they don’t see themselves represented widely,” said Ward. Both teachers had their students top of mind as they considered the purpose of the mural, and wanted to involve the large population of Muslim students at RVLA MS. Added Proulx: “When some of our students go out in the community, they don’t feel at ease because of their culture, religion, and/or color of their skin. We wanted to make sure our students were represented--that’s what helped us refine the mission.”

Together they decided the subject of the mural should be Rahma Rashid, the RVLA MS Officer Coordinator who has played a pivotal role in developing school culture since its founding last year. “This mural means there’s going to be someone they can be empowered by and see themselves in,” said Proulx. Ward agreed: “Ms. Rashid is a key pillar in this community. They all know that she’s gone to college, so seeing something that honored her achievements was so exciting to students. It means going to college is something they can achieve, too.”

A Little Help From Our Friends

In order to complete a project of this scale, Ward and Proulx knew they needed to secure resources for paint and supplies. Proulx’s longtime family friend is former professional baseball player John Olerud, who currently lives in Washington with his family, and they still keep in touch. “I was catching him up on what I’d been up to, particularly that I had studied art as a way to heal student trauma,” explained Proulx. “He and his family were so inspired, they decided to sponsor all the materials for the mural, and even made a gift in support of our restorative justice program.”

Feeling Seen

This project marked a first for both Ward and Proulx -- their first time melding styles with another art teacher and incorporating student voice, as well as their first time painting a large mural. More importantly, it was a marker for the impact their projects can have on the school community at large. “Once students saw it, I was taken aback by how deeply it impacted them and how they see themselves in it,” shared Ward.

Ladan, a seventh grader at RVLA MS, underscored the mural’s positive impact: “It makes me feel like we are seen and not left out.”

For Henry, a sixth grader at RVLA MS, the mural spurred a similar reflection: “It makes me think about identity.”

At Green Dot, we know that fostering an environment where teachers can creatively collaborate to design projects and curriculum will, in turn, create a positive learning experience for students. The process of developing this project encouraged Ward and Proulx to think about their interactions with students in new ways. “The love and patience put into the project is exactly what our students need,” reflected Proulx. Thanks to the love and patience these two art teachers put into RVLA MS’s new mural, along with the support of student voice, students and staff are sure to feel both inspired and included within their new building for years to come.

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