Sailing to Success with the Linwood Howe Vikings
Recently L Star Murals was contacted by a local public school, Linwood Howe Elementary, to help create a large visual component to a program they are launching this semester. The program, Sailing to Success, introduces the students to many opportunities to help them through primary & secondary schooling and bridge the gap to a college and/or career training program. It seeks to serve as an inspirational springboard for getting students to envision and ultimately achieve big academic goals for themselves.
I was asked to create an 18' mural in their all purpose room (cafeteria/auditorium) which illustrated their vision of kids sailing towards the future, with versions of their professional adult selves in view ahead of them. They sail on a viking ship paying homage to the school's mascot, the Vikings, and metaphorically playing on the notion that the children have begun a lifelong journey which requires courage and hard work.
This mural marks the first project I have worked on with a school. I was really surprised to find that it brought a lot of things to the surface for me. Not only was the Lin Howe community welcoming to me and passionate about the their academic pursuits, but they had the distinct feeling of being a big family full of caring parents, administrators and teachers. They seemed to be the embodiment of the "it takes a village" philosophy.
As a product of a struggling district in the public school system in Pennsylvania with similar convictions, I have always found myself an advocate for public schooling. I have seen the magic of teachers transforming lives of kids around me who didn't have anyone else that seemed to care about them. I have had my own creative fire ignited and stoked by two very amazing teachers that I was blessed to study with in high school. I have seen miracles happen in forgotten classrooms.
But, during the past many years I have been out of the system and had no real connection to it. During that time I have heard so many bad things about the state of the public school system: that art and music classes were ditched, test scores have become more valued than actual education, teachers were unhappy, students were unhappy, schools were breeding grounds for violence, and metal detectors & armed guards were the new norm. Perhaps these stories have always been in circulation, but without a direct connection to the system they seemed to ring true. I thought perhaps the impassioned, creative learning environment that I experienced as a student in the William Penn School District was a thing of the past. I am thrilled to find out that is not the case.
Upon completion of the mural, over a 4 day weekend, I was invited to join the unveiling ceremony for the entire school of 500 students, plus teachers and some parents. I had covered the whole mural with giant sheets of butcher paper the day before, so we actually got to dramatically tear it off for a big reveal. The crowd was so excited and very generous in showing it. It was a truly transcendent experience. I felt like a total superstar, even if it was 8:30 am on a Wednesday.
I looked into the crowd and I saw my younger self in the students. I looked at the teachers and principal and saw my teachers, my principals. It was a project that became close to my heart over just a few months. I only hope that the creation of this mural, along with the many efforts of the Sailing to Success program shall ignite many little fires within the hearts and minds of the students. That every kid knows he/she can have a fair shake at the vast bounties life has to offer if they have persistence.
Many thanks to the Linwood Howe PTA for sponsoring the project, as well as the smooth navigation from co-chairs of the Sailing to Success program Rebecca Williams, LaShon Rayford and Principal Dr. Kim Indelicato.