NEW YORK—Brooklyn’s Math & Science Exploratory School has more appeal, color, and aesthetics, thanks to five new murals painted by students, staff, parents, and volunteers on Sunday.
“I feel that they all show how people are different, and since they’re all holding hands it’s mostly showing how different people can be united,” said sixth-grader Olivia Logan, standing next to a mural showing five variously colored people, from green to orange, standing in water with a boat labeled Hope between them. “I feel like they hold onto to each other, and they depend on each other. … They all help each other with their weaknesses and all help each other with their strengths.”
For Logan, the mural’s messages connected with a science project she and her classmates are working on. Instead of just asking for help, they try to compromise and give as well and take. She talked about the water, too.
“It seems more like the water is the kind of thing holding everybody down,” said Logan, motioning with a blue painted hand. “But when they’re all connected, they’re all connected to this boat at the bottom, so that even though they might feel like they’re sinking, their friends help them out and they can all stay together.”
Nearby, Mili Katz, the dean of the school, cleaned up paint supplies. She had received a call from the Anti-Defamation League’s New York chapter about having the first annual A Day of Difference.
The day echoes the goals of ADL’s program No Place for Hate, which 45 city schools participate in, holding activities on themes like anti-bullying, diversity, and anti-prejudice.
Working with the league, Katz has started a peer mediation program, leadership training, and a student government. “There’s real curriculum out there that meets more of the social and emotional parts of what kids are about, in addition to the math and the science,” said Katz. The programs model and give lessons about how to get along even when conflicts inevitably arise between people.
“Having a school where that message is promoted—and doesn’t only talk the talk but gives time to it— really changes your view of things,” said Katz, who has been in teaching positions for a quarter century.
Katz estimated about 40 students, 10 parents, a handful of staff, and some outside volunteers helped out on a project that took about two months to plan.
“I’m really grateful that [the ADL] came to our school, because now it’s going to look so beautiful,” said Max Bertfield, a talkative seventh-grader. “I’m walking down the hall and I feel so cheery because I see all these inspiring messages.”
Bertfield helped paint a mural that includes a big red hand with white words beckoning kids to “Stop rushing.” The mural is at the end of a long hallway that would seem perfect to traverse quickly on the way to class. Indeed, a student ran by Bertfield and four others down the hall, quickly disappearing around the corner.
“The idea was to have signs that are funny but that tell people they should slow down in the hallway,” said Lucas Kohn, a fellow seventh-grader. Kohn’s dad, Daniel, worked on a more complex mural, still unfinished, nearby, featuring a neat replica of a stop sign with other signs underneath, both reality-based and imaginative. A square sign shows a figure running with the words “slow down, children at play,” while another simply says, “Think.”