Five students and a teacher splashed bright colors across the stark walls of Kealakehe Intermediate School’s F Building this summer. In a month, they created an exuberant sea life mural with a whimsical portrayal.
The splash of color has helped beautify the newly renovated school and brighten the atmosphere. It’s a welcomed addition, according to staff, students and parents.
West Hawaii Today received several calls about the new art piece from admirers who saw it for the first time last week, when most schools went back into session. The callers said the mural makes a positive, welcoming and lasting impression of Kealakehe Intermediate, and they appreciate the time and effort that went into creating the artwork.
The mural was part of a summer “Guidance Through Art” program offered by Beth Cooper, a teacher at the school’s mentor center. At the end of every school year, interested students sign up to volunteer for an art project in June. Cooper’s contagious enthusiasm and high energy draws students to the enrichment program, as well as past projects, such as the flags of 32 countries painted on a sidewalk and the art covering the basketball court. The only credit participants get is their signatures on the mural — which they’re thrilled about.
This summer’s participants were Nesah Comesario, Jameson Gaspar, Hannah-Marie Casagrande, Keyson Queta-Paglinawan and Savannah Dallas. For about two hours a day, the students learn about art rules and techniques. Using a projector, they drew Cooper’s designs on the wall with chalk, then marker and paint. The students determined the sequence of the colors and objects — a process that required leadership skills, effective communication and creative problem-solving techniques, Cooper said.
With the design, the group considered who occupies the building’s first floor and took teachers’ suggestions. For the Hawaiian Studies teachers on the north end, they painted a shark, octopus, red hibiscus, humuhumunukunukuapuaa and ulu. In the middle, they painted a row of anglerfish showing their sharp teeth and shiny lure for science teacher Kristy Sunada. On the south end, where the mentor center is located, they painted manta rays and a canoe for Cooper. The finished product reflects Cooper’s philosophy that “Color is what makes the world go ‘round.” The students were encouraged to think outside the box and not just paint the ocean blue, she added.
Each time they gathered, the group members also discussed life and school, with Cooper often helping students see things in a different way, motivating them to reach goals or inspiring them to dare greatly. Cooper, who was born and raised in Kailua, Oahu, shared her path to becoming an artist and teacher. Before that, she worked at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and was a member of an elite wildland firefighting squad called the Hotshots. The discussions weren’t always of serious matters; most were filled with laughter, Cooper said.
Cooper believes walls can be a vehicle for inspiring the school and are great community builders. She has found the murals become a source of pride, share stories, evoke and stimulate thought, and bring people of all-walks-of-life together by sharing commonalities and providing an opportunity to collaborate. She said the colorful displays also provide an unusual solution to graffiti and act as deterrent in high-target areas. Since the murals went up, graffiti is less common, she added.
Cooper credited Principal Don Merwin for making and keeping the arts strong at Kealakehe Intermediate, where he encourages staff to create an arts-rich learning environment. This includes allowing the painting of art or motivational words inside of classrooms, on the exterior walls of buildings and on pathways or creating eye-catching mosaics.
Merwin thinks the arts are important vehicles for children to express themselves. Learning in and through the arts develops the essential knowledge, skills and creative capacities all students need to not only succeed in school, but also in life. The new mural instills a sense of ownership and pride, as well as makes the school more inviting, he said.
When Kealakehe Intermediate’s campus was renovated, several buildings got new paint. This meant the F Building’s original mural art, which spanned three floors, was covered up. That mural had an ocean scene on the first floor, plants on the second floor and a starlit sky complete with a moon on the third floor. Cooper did not fret when that mural was painted over. Instead, she saw it provided the perfect opportunity to give new life and energy to the building with another mural.
Gaspar, 12, joined the program because he likes art and thinks murals make his school more fun. The seventh-grader enjoys how art allows him to express creative ideas. Plus, he added, “it’s fun.” The hardest part, he said, was doing the edges and staying within the lines — something that required careful movements and much concentration.
Comesario, 13, called the mural “a success” and “an awesome opportunity.” The eighth-grader said, “It feels good to give back to the school.” She hopes the ending result inspires all who sees it.