School Matters

Blank wall to get a new life at Santa Lucia Middle School

Special to The CambrianApril 18, 2014 

Art students Cameron Castle and Ethan Walters, standing at right, present plans for a mural at Santa Lucia Middle School to Principal Kyle Martin, seated at left.

TED SIEGLER — Special to The Cambrian

It’s spring. A drab, gray, blank wall at Santa Lucia Middle School soon will sprout colorful, new life as the school’s 25 art students fill it with a mural. Art teacher Suzette Morrow points out that middle school students face a transition from art as over simplified figures and symbols to richer, complex depictions. It is a time in a student’s life to encourage the process. Thus creating a mural has turned into the capstone of Morrow’s yearlong course.

Murals from the past three years — an underwater scene, Cambria wildlife, and a view of Burton Street — still brighten campus walls. This year’s effort promises to be just as vibrant and enduring.

The topic for this year’s mural, “Qualities of Good Character,” is an outgrowth of a program called “Capturing Kids’ Hearts” that has engaged district teachers over the last couple of years. Morrow gave her students six key attributes (trustworthy, respectful, responsible, fair, caring and good citizens) as the starting point for creating their mural. After measuring the wall the students decided to add five more.

To understand the meaning of the attributes, Morrow and the class acted them out and created examples of what they mean. Each student did a self-evaluation measuring which attributes were most important. By totaling the class’s responses, the list was narrowed down.

Then the class discussed which ones they would want to see their peers exhibit while at school. Finally they settled on: imaginative, adaptable, independent, reflective and observant. While not stated, teamwork is inherent in the process.

Next the class came up with specific examples of how the attributes are manifested in their lives (for instance: responsibility includes getting good grades) to incorporate into the mural.

With the initial planning done, students began drawing. First they created sketches of each of the 11 mural segments on their iPads. These sketches could then be printed in poster-sized renditions to be hung on the classroom walls. At this point the class presented their plans to school Principal Kyle Martin for approval.

The next phase was to draw and cut out human figures, proportioned as Morrow has taught them, to be pinned on the wall before the outlining and painting will be done. This will allow the class to evaluate the balance of unity and variety the mural will achieve. Figures will be repositioned until the class is satisfied with the result.

Whew! This isn’t art class the way I remember it.

After spring break Morrow will procure brightly colored house paints from Home Depot with funds provided by the Cambria Education Foundation. Students will learn to mix these paints to achieve desired colors. Each day teams of students will have assigned tasks related to setup and cleanup.

Once the activities are completed, students will make journal entries assessing progress and success in achieving goals. Morrow will use these self-assessments, along with the quality of their iPad sketches and paper people, in grading the students for the project.

Morrow has told former students, “In 10 years you’ll still be able to come back to campus and see what you did.” Given the variety of skills and experiences required to plan for and execute their mural, this project will be an indelible, life-long memory for Morrow’s students and their classmates.

Ted Siegler’s “School Matters” column is special to The Cambrian. Email suggested topics to him at

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