Art teacher builds community through mosaic mural

Walking through the hallways at Sylvia Mendez CREW Leadership Academy, you will find a colorful student-made mural mosaic with the message of “Four Houses, one CREW,” which students in Mary Vongvivitpatana’s art classes take pride in.

Inspired by the Ron Clark System, Sylvia Mendez is one of the Dallas ISD schools that has the house system in place. 

Vongvivitpatana says the mosaic mural project, which took several weeks, inspired unity and built a sense of community for the students. The mosaic, composed of tiny squares that were shrunk to about an inch, is what the students worked on to create the 60-inch by 30-inch mural.

“Students learned that they had a little part in something that made a big difference,” said Vongvivitpatana.“ 

While it was Vonvivitpatana that constructed the mural because of the use of  hot glue, the students saw each house in the mural come to life little by little and also observed how each one of the squares they created became a part of the big scheme of things.

Students in grades second through fifth worked on the mural. 

American artist and animator Mary Blair, who worked extensively for Disney in the 1940s and 1950s inspired the mural. Blair, considered one of the pioneers of women working in animation, worked in films like Alice in Wonderland. The artist is known for using lots of patterns and geometric shapes in her art.  

Drawing on her artwork as inspiration behind their mosaic tiles, every student made a square on plastic Shrinky Dink paper and chose one of Blair’s designs for the mosaic square they created.

A discovery that came about during the process is the realization that Vongvivitpatana needed something to fill in some space in the mural. She had found some mirror sticky tiles, the kind you would find on a disco ball, and she started putting them in the mosaic. She realized that once she started putting them in, the students started connecting with the art. 

“So I thought the kids needed to see themselves in the art. It was a happy accident,” Vongvivitpatana said. “It wasn’t intentional at first and it had even deeper meaning that the kids could see themselves in the houses.”

Vongvivitpatana also says that these kinds of projects not only instill pride and self-esteem in her students, but also contribute to student success. She says that some students might be struggling in the classroom, but discover their talents in art or may try something that they didn’t know they could be successful in–and it’s that sense of accomplishment that makes them so happy. 

One of the biggest takeaways from this process, according to Vongvivitpatana, is that students are extremely motivated by the work they created.

 “One student said he was going to ask his dad to visit the school so he could take a picture in front of his house,” Vongvivitpatana said. “The fact that the students were able to connect with the art and learn that art can be a way of communicating among themselves and their community was absolutely wonderful.”  

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