All Holtzman Elementary students have a hand in creating mural
Keil Heineman, Jacob Gilbert, and Elijah Benka-Davies worried as they prepared to put paintbrush to canvas – squares of posterboard, actually – in a Thomas Holtzman Elementary classroom.
“Me and Jacob are scared that we’re going to mess up, and everybody’s going to be like, ‘What happened?’” said Heineman, a fifth grader in the Susquehanna Twp. School District school. “I draw, but I don’t paint. I use colored pencils because it’s easier to erase. Paint stays on unless you wash it off.”
Just then, visiting artist Sheena Hisiro made an announcement.
“If you make a mistake, just let us know, because when it’s wet you can wipe it off the board really easy,” she said.
Lesson learned – one of many as each of Holtzman’s 594 students helped create a mural to be unveiled May 11, during the school’s annual May Fair.
The Holtzman PTO sponsored Hisiro, a 2003 Susquehanna Twp. High School graduate, to lead the project. Hisiro, of Brooklyn, NY, has illustrated several books written by Floyd Stokes, local children’s author and president of Harrisburg-based American Literacy Corp.
In January, students brainstormed ideas for the mural’s theme. Hisiro blended their ideas into three sketches, and students voted on a favorite. Hisiro transferred the winning sketch onto square panels, and on May 8, 9, and 10, every student in the school went to the art room at designated times to fill in the outlines with paint.
The finished mural will hang in a prominent intersection of hallways, under a vaulted skylight. The winning design shows a classroom of students engaging in a range of activities — studying butterflies, reading, painting a picture of their school.
“It’s really fun for the school because it’ll show people how it’s very nice here,” said fifth grader Avani Patel.
“I do like to learn,” said Emma Jacobs, explaining her vote for the classroom theme over competing scenes of library time and recess.
Raquel Clea, carefully painting a pink shoe, called the group-painting concept “kind of good.”
“Some people, they kind of rush while they’re painting, and it won’t match the other people,” she said.
The design also includes a student wearing a red and white Susquehanna Twp. School District shirt.
“She incorporates everything — the school colors and what is true about school, like when we’re reading,” said Chrissy Mitchell.
The project builds school spirit and gives every student a hand in the final creation, said Holtzman Assistant Principal Becky Kiphorn.
“Years from now, they can come back and say, ‘Those shoes are me,’” Kiphorn said. “It really helps to unify them because they’re all working together to have this one piece of art that will be in the school for a long time.”
Students soaked up lessons from the presence of a professional artist.
“It’s creative how she puts it on pieces and puts them together,” said Ashlynn Mills.
Omini Washington took extra time perfecting the brown hair she was painting.
“I’m trying to make it look better because I had it all sloppy,” she said.
Art teacher Lindsay Lester prepared students for the artist’s visit. Hisiro is “part of us,” she said.
“She’s a product of the art department,” Lester said. “She’s our pride. Our kids can see she came from this school district.”
In an assembly, Hisiro compared her childhood drawings to her professional work. The demonstration excited a student who told Hisiro that his kindergarten drawings looked like hers.
“He thought that was really cool,” Hisiro said. “He could see that I didn’t just start out drawing like this. It’s taken a lot of time to develop and a lot of practice.”
The involvement of every student was “the neatest thing” about the project, said Holtzman Principal Michael Selvenis.
“The true art history to me is not only the painting but the creation of the mural,” he said. “That’s where the real magic happened.”
Jacob Gilbert anticipated the unveiling so he could point out his brushstrokes.
“It’ll be be cool to actually be a part of it,” he said.