Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Mural at St. Joseph School Underscores Themes of Community and Connection

The full mural at St. Joseph School, made up of more than 500 puzzle pieces, includes illustrations of animals, flowers, Scripture passages, churches, colors, sports, pets and more things that make students and staff happy.
The full mural at St. Joseph School, made up of more than 500 puzzle pieces, includes illustrations of animals, flowers, Scripture passages, churches, colors, sports, pets and more things that make students and staff happy.
Art teacher Denise Aubert and school counselor Danielle DeSantis stand next to the mural, located outside the school office.
Art teacher Denise Aubert and school counselor Danielle DeSantis stand next to the mural, located outside the school office.

At first glance, a new mural at St. Joseph School in Mechanicsburg is a magnificent tapestry of vibrant color and eye-catching images adorning the wall outside the school office.

But a closer look and deeper reflection reveal themes of belonging, connection and happiness.

The mural, “Together We are One,” from John 17:21, was unveiled in late September, the culmination of a school-wide project involving the efforts of everyone who makes up the St. Joseph School community.

The mural consists of more than 500 oversized puzzle pieces – each one representing the students, teachers, maintenance personnel, cafeteria workers, staff, clergy and administrators from St. Joseph’s.

Every piece tells a story, shares a positive message and illustrates how each individual person at the school is connected to the others.

Art teacher Denise Aubert and school counselor Danielle DeSantis of the Capital Area Intermediate Unit introduced the mural project to all students in PreK3 through eighth grade during the first week of school, and gave each member of the school community their own puzzle piece to decorate.

“We left the palette open for them. We told them it had to be something positive, and whatever makes them happy or would make other people happy,” Aubert told The Catholic Witness. “Generally, when I do art projects, I give them an idea and sometimes it’s more structured. But we wanted this project to really be about them and the positive messages they wanted to share.”

Each puzzle piece is as unique as the students, teachers and staff who created them. Some are patterns of favorite colors or animals, while others depict sports, flowers, beaches and Scripture verses.

Aubert and DeSantis said their idea for the project stemmed from the book “Maybe Something Beautiful,” based on the true story of the Urban Art Trail in San Diego, in which a little girl and an artist collaborate to bring beautiful murals to their city.

“The book was our springboard to involve the kids and make something beautiful that involves everybody in our school community,” DeSantis said. “We really saw the kids thinking through their piece and taking their time to create something they were proud of. It generated a lot of positive energy and excitement.”

The mural has also been a symbol of belonging, and a conversation starter, especially as students ask their classmates, teachers and staff which piece they designed, and why their image is important to them.

When the mural was unveiled, Aubert and DeSantis accompanied each class as they sat in front of it to contemplate the lessons it reveals.

“We reflected on similarities and differences, on being one part of a community, and on collaborating to create beautiful things with a positive impact,” DeSantis said.

“When we feel like we belong, when we feel grounded and supported, we in turn feel that we can grow with the supports and resources that are around us,” DeSantis said. “Each child in our building brings with them something that is so unique, and they were able to represent that in the project. We talked about growth, and how, years from now, students will look at their puzzle piece and see how their art has changed. We’ve talked about growth in terms of how they mature and what they were able to accomplish. We’ve talked to the students about how their resources and supports are within our four walls of the school, but also in the community. When we open up doors and have conversations with people who can help guide us, we realize what those resources are.”

The mural will be a longstanding illustration of these life-lessons for years to come, and more students will add their stories as they join the school community. The mural has no borders; the puzzle pieces on the outer edges are open to welcome new contributions and celebrate self-worth.

“In this day and age, there is so much negativity and a lot of things that bring kids down. The mural is a positive thing that we created together as a community,” Aubert said. “It’s a feel-good story, and everybody was part of it. The kids are still looking at the project, and I think they will for a long time because they took ownership and are extremely proud of it.”

(Photos courtesy of St. Joseph School.)

By Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness

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