Students of Williams Elementary Create Murals at Their School

When Maya Brown, a Teacher of The Year 2018 at Williams Elementary School, accidentally found out that one of her second-grade student’s parent, Iryna Kanishcheva, is the Owner of GNV URBAN ART and is responsible for most of the murals in Gainesville, she immediately thought about creating something for kids. While students were learning about notable women in history as part of Women’s Month, Iryna Kanishcheva proposed to paint a mural involving both kids and local female artist Jenna Horner. For this collaboration were selected students from 2nd to 5th grade. Each grade took a 15-minutes turn to leave their marks, including teachers. A regular day on campus turned to a special event for all the participants with a reminder for many future years created on the wall.


Local news. More details at WCJB.


Interview with the teacher Maya Brown


Why is this project important for the students and the school?


Most individuals who work in education know that it is fundamental to have a sense of community in order for all students to be successful in a school setting. Yes, we will always have a select few that will perform well academically. However, a true educator is not only concerned with the academic success of their students but their personal well being as well. This project was important because it was not one dimensional in the sense that academically you had to be the best of the best to participate or be successful at contributing. This project allowed all of the students of Williams elementary be they classified as general education students or gifted students be a part of a project that would allow them to feel like a contributing member of their school community. Typically when students are vested in something they feel more ownership and pride. I believe this project was important for all the students to get a taste of what it feels like to be successful while providing aesthetic enjoyment for those around you. I believe for some students they will want to replicate that feeling of being a contributing member of their community. What a beautiful idea to think that this mural can be the spark that ignites a flame of success within students, even if only one. That is amazing!!!


How does the mural project connect/unite the community? 


I was amazed after the mural was completed at how many parents would stop by in the parent pick up loop and say “Hey I saw the mural on the news and decided to check it out myself. It is amazing” or I had a woman who I assume was a grandmother that was in the office after school as I was passing through who stopped me and said “I told my baby all about how I met Michelle Obama when she came to Gainesville and she looks just like the picture on that wall.” Had we not had the mural painted I wonder if that conversation between that grandmother and grandchild would have ever taken place. In addition, the mural was perfect timing because it was right on the heels of our career day. The entire student body was able to see a local artist from their community come in and show what they do for a living. This was not a speech about a job that seems like it could possibly be out of reach for them. No, in fact quite the contrary, they were able to see Jenna in her element doing what is her source of income. It was also a great way for the students to see someone who is a native Alachua County resident go back to a public school and choose to give back through her talent and time for the betterment of the Gainesville community.



This project is so special to be a part of.  It is empowering to provide children with the opportunity to embrace their creativity, specifically when it coincides with referencing gender and race by using images of significant figures in history.  The portraits of Michelle Obama and Harriet Tubman are both very moving figures to have together in the space because they represent an interesting parallel within the constructs of power and race. The students will get the chance to paint with me in the background of both portraits. They will do most of the work with their hands rather than brushes and will fill in large blocks of color referencing handmade quilts. Quilts have an interesting history specifically for the underground railroad and I find them to be a beautiful metaphor for small pieces coming together to create a bigger picture. – Jenna Horner, artist.



What is the educational meaning of the project?


From kindergarten until graduation we are constantly teaching students to see the thread of sequencing, cause and effect and many other critical comprehension skills. I feel like this particular project was able to hit several curricular lessons within one project. Students were able to see patterns along with geometric shapes and their attributes which truly is putting math skills to work in a real-life situation. From a social studies point of view, they were able to demonstrate their knowledge of the two notable women (Harriet Tubman and Michelle Obama) depicted on the murals. In addition, they could see the significance of how one event affects another. For example, we were able to link the biographies of how Harriet Tubman endured much to secure her own freedom but did not stop there and instead went back and risked her life to free many many more enslaved African Americans as well. Then fast forward many years later and we have Michelle Obama who saw education as her ticket to a better life and now does the same for many young people across the country. From an art class perspective, Jenna was able to share how you mix certain colors in order to get other desired colors. The kids were able to witness that firsthand. This project provided a myriad of learning experiences for children of all grade levels and the best part is it will continue to do so for many years to come.



What are the benefits of projects such as these? 


There are many benefits to projects such as the mural painted. The most obvious is the beautification of the school campus. We had two walls that at one point were plain white and occasionally because nothing was there kids would write unkind things there. It was almost like a huge blank piece of paper screaming fill me up, please. Kids sometimes did fill it up but not with nice things. Painting the mural and more importantly allowing the kids to paint the mural made the campus more aesthetically pleasing and the kids were able to do it. Another benefit is that we have many many kids across our district who are naturally artistically inclined. Unfortunately, they do not have a plethora of options available to them to be able to show their artistic abilities. This was an outlet for many kids to be a part of something artistic that was enjoyable and ALL kids could do it whether they are the next Picasso or whether they are like me, someone who can barely draw a stick figure. I also believe projects like these are important because many people in various ways are willing to share their artistic talents with the schools or greater community at large. They want to give back to the communities that they feel have given so much to them and I think they’re just hasn’t or perhaps it is more accurate to say there isn’t necessarily a platform for them to do so. It would be great if there was some sort of a go-between or rather a liaison that could bridge our art and educational communities together on a larger scale.


A Letter from the Principal


July 12, 2018


For the month of March, students at my school, Williams Elementary, studied many notable women. Iryna Kanishcheva from the Gainesville Urban Art Project [GNV URBAN ART LLC] coordinated with Jenna Horner to create a wonderful project that culminated this unit of study. The mural that Jenna Horner conceptualized was a powerful hands on experience for the students of Williams Elementary that will serve as a source of inspiration for years to come.

The impact of the arts on education cannot be overstated. This mural allowed students to have greater ownership in deepening their learning. One parent can be quoted as saying “This project is wonderful and my baby has shown me three times where her hand print is”. As a principal, I can say that nothing is better than having all stakeholders (students, teachers andparents) excited about learning.

Art is an integral part of all subject areas and in my opinion, art projects such as this are extremely beneficial to all aspects of the elementary curriculum. Why not have a mural in a school representing the Egyptian hieroglyphics or the periodic tables? There are so many possibilities for integrating art murals such as these across the school campus. Most importantly, it allows students to have hands on experience to deepen their content knowledge, in partnership with the community of art experts from the Gainesville Urban Art Project.

I would like to formally thank the Gainesville Urban Art Project for dedicating their time and talents to the students of Williams Elementary. It is my hope that this partnership will continue for other schools in Gainesville. I would gladly attest to the success of this powerful hands on experience for students.




Jacquatte Rolle
Principal of Williams Elementary
[now Principal of W. A. Metcalfe Elementary School]


More images by Iryna Kanishcheva:


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *