Section of Columbia mural "How do you stay curious?" and "What brings you joy?"

The artwork chosen for September in the current Family Handbook and Calendar comes from Columbia Elementary School and highlights the collaborative work of teacher Ashley Welch with her 2020-21 fourth graders. The artwork is one section of a school mural found on the first floor of the school. (Photo 2) View more sections of the mural in photos 3 through 6.

The mural development process took place in the 2020-21 school year, which included full-time remote instruction in the first part of the school year and hybrid instruction in the latter part of the year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Thank you to the students for their heartfelt thinking and creativity that went into this mural installation. Their process touched on many of the outcomes of The Bellingham Promise, including collaboration, compassion, communication and well-rounded individuals engaged with the broader world.

Ms. Welch shared her thoughts about the in-depth process she went through with her students in the following reflection.

Reflections from Ashley Welch, fourth grade teacher, Columbia Elementary School:

“It all started at the beginning of February when I read an article in Education Week about adults talking about learning loss in kids. After reading it, I took some questions back to my class for our morning meeting. These questions included:

  • During the pandemic, what are some things you feel like you’ve lost?
  • What are ways you’ve seen yourself grow?
  • Some people are focused on the idea of learning loss. What do you want those adults to know about you and your experiences during the pandemic?

Students gave thoughtful and deep answers, far beyond what I was expecting. (See a sampling of these thoughts and questions below.) They spoke of losing loved ones, not seeing friends, having parents lose jobs, lack of access to food. They told me about how they learned that they loved writing, bonded with siblings, discovered how to slow down, that they appreciate the little things more. They talked about new skills they learned like baking, drawing dragons and how to be more independent.

At the end of this conversation, I was so moved that I followed up with a question about what we could do to make the most of our year, to bring joy to our learning. This is how our classroom joy project began.

From here, we started a fourth-grade bucket list: a list of things that we wanted to do to make us happy during a challenging time. We were quickly and easily able to do many of the student requests. However, there were two items that I wasn’t sure we would ever be able to fulfill since we weren’t all back at school yet: making a video and creating a mural. Once all students returned to in-person learning, however, these two ideas floated back to the surface. This is where the actual mural begins.

Using the central idea for our International Baccalaureate (IB) unit on “How We Express Ourselves: Individuals express ideas through creation and design,” students came up with a plethora of ways they could express themselves. We focused on all the different skills we learned and, of course, found the positive, the happiness, the joy.

To begin the mural, I played three songs and had kids listen and reflect in different ways. They listened to 1) “What a Wonderful World” and drew whatever the song made them think of; 2) “Wonderful Questions” where they reflected by writing questions of their own; and 3) “A Million Dreams” where they reflected with words or pictures what represented their dreams. These were the beginnings of our mural (and video) before we really knew where it would lead.

After I collected these pieces, I found some great questions that I held onto, we used these in the video and the mural. I pulled pictures that showed possibilities, using them as inspiration and looked at some mural samples. Students chose a style of mural that spoke to them and were asked to draw using the kid dreams as their jumping off point in that style. At this point, many of the pictures were landscape and outdoors inspired.

From here, we painted all the parts and began interviewing students around the school to share all the amazing things that have come from this crazy year.

My class needed to find joy in the simple things during the pandemic year. This amazing group of fourth graders not only learned deeply but came together, persevered, and overcame challenges that no one thought a nine or ten-year-old would be able to do. They supported each other, grew their patience, and became a family of sorts. We are all grateful for our pandemic classmates as they are the classmates we will never forget.”

Our Fourth Grade Chorus Line
People can change things.
Everyone is created equal.
We should be kind to everyone.
Anybody can create change.
Thinking about all perspectives in a situation is important.
Don’t judge people because they’re different. Being different is okay.
Change can happen if we believe we can.
Listen. Think.
Everyone has a different story so don’t try to write it for them.

Our Questions:
What brings you joy?
What’s your dream?
Who do you love?
What scares you?
How do you stay curious?
What inspires you?
Why not?
What makes you happy?
Who makes you happy?
What brings you joy?
What do you need help with?
Who inspires you?
Notice more.
What did you learn?
How do you know?
Who am I deep down?
Where do you find joy?
How have you found joy through Covid?
What has been hard about school?
What have you learned about in school that is new this year?
What has been good about school this year?
What have you learned about yourself this year?
What have you gotten better at this year?
What do you appreciate more now that you maybe took for granted previously?
How have you brought joy or kindness to others?

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