Art & Culture

Colorful murals enliven Hollister Schools

Summer school program pushes art to the walls.

They’ve been looking forward to the bright side since March 2020. 

Staff, students and parents of the Hollister School District have been anxiously waiting for schools to resume in-person instruction ever since COVID-19 triggered the shelter-in-place mandate. 

Now, HSD plans for students to return to in-person school on Aug. 16, and there will be a new bright side on each elementary campus.

On July 30—the last day of HSD’s summer school program—every operating school unveiled murals created by summer school students and nine teaching artists from the San Benito County Arts Council.

Teaching Artist, Anastasia Newman, assists students putting their initials on the completed mural. Photo by Jenny Mendolla Arbizu.
Teaching Artist, Anastasia Newman, assists students putting their initials on the completed mural. Photo by Jenny Mendolla Arbizu.

“Each one is very different,” said Arts Council Executive Director Jennifer Laine. “Every class paraded in front of their mural to see the finished product. The council got lollipops for all the students, just to say thank you and to have a good rest of the summer. We’re just happy for the students.”

Laine said the mural project was embedded into the summer school program, which had 1,357 students enrolled.

“Right before COVID happened, we went through a strategic planning process with the Hollister School District to develop an arts plan,” said Laine. “One of the things listed was having a mural at each school site. After COVID hit, the arts plan kind of got put on hold.”

 In fall 2019, San Benito County Arts Council expanded its seven-year partnership with HSD by hiring nine artists—each one designated to a school site—to teach weekly art lessons to every third through fifth grade class in the district. In March 2020, “about 67 art classes per week all of a sudden came to a halt,” said Laine. Lessons eventually resumed via Zoom, and then shifted to Google Classroom for the 2020-21 school year. 

HSD focused on enrichment in summer school rather than a review of coursework. Because of the impact of the pandemic on learning, the 2021 summer school program was open to all students, not just those behind in academics

“It was more focused on social and emotional healing really, community building and socializing,” said Laine.

The Arts Council developed a schedule at each school site to ensure each student worked on its mural once or twice per week.  

Arts Council Director of Arts Education Amanda Chiado said a total of 10 murals were painted. Two of them, located at Marguerite Maze Middle School and Cerra Vista School, were painted indoors by the eight students in the Specialized Opportunities for Academic Resilience (SOAR) therapeutic program. 

“Those two groups of students worked with a teaching artist to develop indoor murals,” said Chiado. “So they’ll get to enjoy those in their classrooms all next year.”

Teaching artists spent the first two weeks brainstorming and doing design-thinking exercises with students, said Laine. Those exercises led to general questions about the school and its culture. “So there were a lot of just really fun and inspiring and unique conversations that students were having.” 

Clay Peer has been a resident teaching artist at the Hollister Dual Language Academy since 2019. He, along with other teaching artists in the district, helped students decide what would be presented in the murals.   

“In order to get everybody to participate, I had different projects for grades to work on,” Peer said. “The first week, we brainstormed. And the second week we did those projects. 

Peer created a design by using the acronym of the school as its base: HDLA. Each letter contains images that represent the school’s culture.

Teaching Artist, Clay Peer, and HDLA students. Photo by Jenny Mendolla Arbizu.
Teaching Artist, Clay Peer, and HDLA students. Photo by Jenny Mendolla Arbizu.

“In between the L and the A, there is a dahlia flower, which is the national flower of Mexico,” Peer said. “Being that this is a dual language academy, we really wanted to pull in the Mexican culture. They celebrate Dia de los Muertos every year, so we made sure to have a calavera (a skull), and we also wanted to reflect some of our closely local aspects. We have a field, and that field is actually the field across the street. And that mountain range actually matches the real mountain range over there. I really wanted it to be a community type of project, where the students could come up and say, ‘I did that,’”  

Teaching artist Rebecca Pearson’s students at Cerra Vista School already felt ownership of their creation.  

When she asked students about their experience of creating a school mural, fifth grader Miranda Mendez said, “The best thing is that the whole school helped create it.”

Third grader Alison Vela felt an even closer connection to it. 

“I know the mural has a lot of love that went into it,” Vela said.

Cerra Vista School's completed mural. Photo by Jenny Mendolla Arbizu.
Cerra Vista School’s completed mural. Photo by Jenny Mendolla Arbizu.

Arts Council’s Marketing Manager Heidi Jumper said that the 2021-22 school year’s art program is in the planning stage.   

“Our plan is to have a teaching artist, who is an artist and resident, at every school site— including Rancho Santana. We’re developing our plan for next year’s visual arts program, where we’ll be serving the Hollister School District students third through seventh grade for one art class a week (excluding middle schools).” 

The council may even offer an option for a mural program in the district’s visual art curriculum in the spring. 

“Public art is definitely becoming something that is going to be more celebrated in upcoming years,” Jumper said. “These public murals all over different towns are becoming a more appreciated type of fine art, and something that everybody in different communities can celebrate and enjoy.” 

 

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Jenny Mendolla Arbizu

Jenny is a Hollister native who resides in her hometown with her husband and son. She graduated from San Benito High School, and received her BA in Literature from UC Santa Cruz and her MA in Education from San Jose State University. Jenny has written for the Hollister Freelance, San Benito Magazine and South Valley Magazine. She finds joy in meeting new people in San Benito County and in spotlighting the county’s events and businesses. When not writing, Jenny can be found cuddling with her fur-babies, performing with SBSC, singing with the Hollister VFW, or doing rope climbs at Cold Storage CrossFit.