New mural helps unite a school

May 27, 2022
Photograph of mural depicting a group of students above the following quote: "Celebrate the highs. Hold on during the lows. They all have purpose."

Caption: The finished mural, which hangs in a lobby stairwell at Central Montco Technical High School, incorporates faces of several current students, including (from L to R): Cosmetology senior Tais Sanabia, Auto Collison junior Chosen Onyejiaka, Cosmetology sophomore Olivia Scheidler, Auto Collison junior Mekhi Crawford, Teacher Academy senior Sudan Wray.

A new mural at Central Montco Technical High School (CMTHS) is more than a work of art. It’s the product of a hands-on learning experience – and a way to unite the community, promote mental health, and foster connections between students and faculty during the pandemic.

Philadelphia artist Symone Salib created the 13x14-foot mural in partnership with the school’s faculty, the CMTHS Student Equity Crew, which is a group of students that work to promote equity and inclusion in the school's community, and the Penn Consortium for Mental Health and Optimal Development at Penn GSE.

As students returned to classrooms last fall after long periods of COVID-disrupted learning, they sought a sense of normalcy. At CMTHS, the mural offered an opportunity for students and staff to reunite and reconnect.

Over the last several months, students from the Student Equity Crew worked with Salib, who is also an educator, to plan and design the mural. The artwork features an inspirational message, student faces, and assorted icons that represent the school’s training programs, such as a saw, hammer, globe, and spatula. The process built students’ leadership skills, supported social and emotional learning, promoted school culture, and fostered meaningful connections, according to Debora Broderick, a lecturer at Penn GSE who helped bring the project to fruition as part of her involvement with Penn’s Consortium.

“As part of a way to counteract the burnout while still meeting students’ needs, we thought it would be great if we did some kind of celebratory collaborative project that brought the school together,” Broderick said. “We essentially wanted to move from crisis intervention to intentional celebration.”

After months of planning, CMTHS hosted a “Mural Week” in mid-May, during which students helped paint the mural, created T-shirts using silk-screen techniques, and participated in social and emotional learning activities.

Sudan Wray, a student in the school’s Teacher Academy Program, felt that the mural project created a positive atmosphere on campus.

“[There were] lots of kids talking to each other who didn't know each other before. They were doing all the different activities that we have set up,” said Wray, who is among the CMTHS students whose face is depicted on the mural. “For a lot of us, it was the first time that we're getting to the meet kids from other [CMTHS] programs, so yeah, the climate has been really good here.”

Broderick said the Consortium was instrumental in advancing the mural from an idea to reality, and she recommended other schools and districts use its resources. The Consortium offers free consultations to schools, districts, and educators.

The mural was made possible in part by a grant from the Central Montco Education Foundation.