Bridgehampton School students Aries Cooks and Tyler Stephens worked with teachers Jessica Rodgers and Joyce Raimondo to complete a mural in the school’s cafeteria on Tuesday. michael heller photo
By Tessa Raebeck
A once bare wall in the cafeteria at Bridgehampton School is being filled with vibrant images of positive self-expression and creativity.
Celebrated artist and children’s book author Joyce Raimondo, a resident of East Hampton, is working with students to create an anti-bullying mural as part of the district’s Dignity Act for All Students (DASA) and Positive Behavioral Intervention Support System (PBIS) efforts.
“I wanted to create a project that would give young people a positive and creative forum for teamwork, rather than focus on all the negative aspects of bullying,” said Raimondo.
Raimondo is author of the popular “Art Explorer” series and “The Museum of Modern Art’s Art Safari” book. Her inspiration for the anti-bullying project came out of touring schools across the country.
“I do programs all over the United States based on my books about how to spark creativity,” said Raimondo. “So, I visit a lot of schools and I noticed when I was visiting the schools that there are a lot of signs in the schools — posters and different words — telling the children how to behave. They’re commercial posters and often there are no pictures, just a word or a message.”
Raimondo decided to create a forum for students “to get involved in illustrating the opposite of bullying.” She decided to focus on positive behavior and constructive messages, centering on the positive efforts that counteract bullying rather than the negative implications of bullying.
The notion behind the mural centers around two key components.
“One was let’s not focus on anti-bullying, on what you’re not supposed to do,” explained Raimondo. “Let’s give the kids a focal point of: This is how you are supposed to be towards each other. This is the kind of world you want to create.”
The second element is “taking these positive messages and making it art by kids for kids, because it’s all created by the students themselves,” said Raimondo.
The first step in the process of creating the mural is looking at the artwork of famous artists, such as Pablo Picasso and Jackson Pollock, and having group discussions.
“Through these discussions, they’re learning about how artists express themselves creatively,” said Raimondo. “They’re also learning about the idea of expression.”
Discussing the artists’ individuality facilitates students’ understanding of the harms of bullying.
“When you express yourself, you’re entitled to have your own ideas,” said Raimondo. “You’re entitled to have your own individuality. That’s encouraged. You also need to appreciate other people’s ideas and other people’s creativity.”
Following the discussion, students are divided up into teams. Each team gets a word or phrase to illustrate with paper cutouts. Raimondo incorporates the school’s slogans into the mural. At Bridgehampton School, slogans such as “Respect,” “Be Kind” and “Ready to Learn” are included. Instead of bare posters dictating directions, the messages are now imbued in the vibrant mural.
By working together in teams, students learn how to resolve conflicts and reach cooperative decisions.
Raimondo guides the process, but the ideas come from the students. “A lot of the emphasis in school is about following direction,” she said. “I’m giving them an opportunity to express themselves creatively within a group.”
After the teams submit their posters, Raimondo brings them to her professional art studio and designs the mural based on the students’ ideas.
“The children’s ideas are so whimsical, fun and lively,” she said. “In my opinion, they’re far better than any adult could ever think of.”
Bridgehampton students Tyler Stephens and Aries Cook have been selected to paint the mural alongside Raimondo. Stephens is in the eighth grade and Cook is a ninth grader.
The once blank wall is now filled with colorful images and positive messages. One image is of a boy with a light bulb above his head, “to illustrate the idea of learning and ideas,” explained Raimondo. The boy is riding a skateboard.
“That’s what came from the kids,” she said. “The adults wouldn’t put him on a skateboard.”