One by one, some of the sixth-grade students at Dana Elementary in Nipomo stepped forward to have their right hands covered in light green or yellow paint.
Then, cautiously, they climbed a ladder and carefully pressed their palms against a brightly colored mural.
When they finished, the dark green trees painted on the side of a classroom wall were covered with hand prints, each signed by their owners.
“I think it’s excellent and beautiful,” 12-year-old Ebony Anderson said after she’d washed her hand free of paint.
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Nipomo artist Ethel “Tink” Landers stood nearby, directing and helping the students. She created the mural based on illustrations and stories produced by the sixth graders.
Besides two large trees — with “6th Grade Rocks” written on the trunk of one tree — the mural includes a boy reading, two girls playing with a blue kickball, a dolphin, a horse wearing a snorkel and a rainbow with a school slogan, “Respect the Blue,” painted under it.
Landers plans to paint murals for all the other grades as well, and recently started painting the fifth-graders’ wall using paint donated by the school’s PTA. The kindergartners already have a colorful mural that can be seen from West Tefft Street, painted by parent Jennifer Marsh.
The murals will incorporate student stories and drawings, and give them a chance to add final touches. Landers said they serve several purposes: they beautify Dana Elementary, give the students more pride and ownership and, perhaps most importantly, keep the students interested in art.
“Too many shut down at an early age, thinking ‘I’m not good,’ ” Landers said. “One of my main goals is to stimulate creativity.”
But don’t take her word for it — just ask 11-year-olds Carly Billinger or Ian Macaulay. “I think it’s cool that we got to play a part in this,” Billinger said.
Added Macaulay: “I think this is an enjoyable experience now that my name is on the wall for all to see.”
Landers also painted a mural inside the school’s cafeteria over the Christmas holiday, which Dana Principal Stacey Russell said has boosted student morale.
“The kid participation in this really is key,” she added.
Landers, who doesn’t have any relatives at Dana Elementary, also hopes to get other retirees involved in efforts to beautify their local schools.
“I’m retired and have a lot of energy, so why not give back this way?” she said. “You don’t have to have a child or grandchild (there) to help your local school.”
Cynthia Lambert and Gayle Cuddy write the South County Beat column on alternating Wednesdays. Reach Cynthia Lambert at 781-7929. Stay updated by following @SouthCountyBeat on Twitter.