In 2016, Ashton Nicole Dove from Kentucky won the 11+ year-old category of the United Against Bullying Coloring Contest. Her school, Livingston Central High School, won a $500 award for a bullying awareness or kindness initiative of their choice.
The winning school’s art teacher, Ms. Jennifer Bowles, wanted to use the gift to continue the conversation on kindness. She told us that the superintendent, who cooked 800 hot dogs at one event, and the entire administration are involved district-wide in supporting the community and the schools. Bowles suggested to the administration that a mural with the theme, “Rooted in Kindness,” planned and painted by the students, and mounted in the Commons area above the doorway for all who entered to view, would be the perfect use of the award money. It was approved.
Jennifer said her students were involved in the entire process, with the development taking approximately four weeks and the painting, two weeks. Students 9th through 12th grades were involved in planning and creating the mural, giving a variety of age groups, from freshman to seniors, from beginners in art to advanced students, the opportunity to participate.
The theme, “Rooted in Kindness” was chosen to continue the conversations on kindness, acceptance, uniqueness, and the right for all to be who they are. Her art students talked about bullying, about being kind, and how we can only control ourselves. They felt the theme illustrated strength, safety, growth, connection, environment, unification, and individuality.
The kids were taught about different paint styles and techniques, and eventually chose a Japanese style with a cherry blossom theme for the mural. The school mascot is the cardinal, also known as the redbird, so they painted them bright, bold, and different sizes and shapes to symbolize the different sizes and shapes in life. They wanted the imagery to be elegant and powerful, so after much discussion they decided to paint bright red hearts, again different sizes and shapes, to represent the leaves. Even the typography was carefully planned with the lettering handwritten.
Some of the initial decisions changed along the way during the development of the mural, but this was good, as it imitated having to rethink and find creative solutions, as in real world scenarios. The students learned new techniques, how to use acrylic paints, how to mix them together with latex house paint, and how to seal the mural with a clear acrylic spray. But the most important learning was in the challenge of completing such a big project at the end of the school year.
“Painting is an investigation of being.” – Squeak Carnwath
The students were sometimes overwhelmed with the scope and size of the project, literally, being 8-foot tall by 12-foot wide. But many personal gifts were gained by completing the mural, including increased self-confidence, problem-solving skills, negotiating and communicating skills, and new, stronger friendships. And to quote their art teacher, “the kids had a ball.”
In the beginning of the project, some of the younger students felt they couldn’t paint or draw, but with encouragement and guidance from Ms. Bowles, they tried and were rewarded with learning they could do it. Their artistic skills, social emotional skills, and confidence grew.
The students learned how to encourage each other, how to motivate themselves, how to take a leadership role, and how to own it and get it done. They learned how to work as a team, how to be kind, and to have empathy for each other. Jennifer commented that there was an “increase of kindness, with constant discussions on overall acceptance and uniqueness.”
“The level of our success is limited only by our imagination and no act of kindness, however small, is ever wasted.” – Aesop
The Livingston Central High School’s website includes a write up on each teacher. They say that Ms. Bowles is an “inspiration to students, staff, and families.” Learning how this mural project, rooted in kindness, empowered the students in so many different ways, has definitely inspired me.
All 12 schools of the winners and runner ups of the current United Against Bullying Coloring and Poster contest will win an award for a kindness or bullying awareness project. Entries are accepted until October 31st. What bullying awareness and/or kindness project can you imagine to empower the students in your community?
For more information on the Contests, rules, and prizes or to download the coloring contest entry: unitedagainstbullying.net/contests
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