When first-year Pontiac Junior High School art teacher Jodeci Townsend told a select group of eighth graders they would be creating and painting a class mural on the walls of the school, the students knew it would have to be something special.
    “I didn’t want these students just think of this as just another project,” Townsend said. “If they didn’t care, I wouldn’t want them to be a part of it. I explained, ‘I want the next eighth grade class to find the mural to be meaningful and relevant.’ They agreed, they wanted to do something that would leave a lasting impression.”
    Within a span of two days, eighth graders Devyn Wolf, Zoey Dodge, Nolan Verdun, Mason Bennett, Emme Lee, Kadin Durham and Mikayla Fisher painted and completed the mural located near the entrance to the library.
    “There is one dark-skinned hand and one light-skinned hand and they are held together. The two hands are covered with blue and green marks to symbolize the Earth,” Lee said. “We wanted to give a message of unity.”
    Planning for the mural, which was completed on April 12, began after students returned from Winter Break. During the break, Townsend selected seven students she thought would be interested in and capable of completing the mural project.
    “The students I picked were chosen because I felt that they were extremely creative, even though they might not have felt like that in the beginning,” Townsend said. “I started with a list and I narrowed it down to students that might not typically be asked to do something like this. I wanted to give those students a chance to participate. So, I narrowed it down to about seven students.”
     Prior to painting the mural, Townsend held several meetings with the group to come up with mural ideas. In addition to selecting the students for their artistic abilities, the students were also selected for their varying interests.
    “We put together a few sketches and then voted on what we wanted,” Lee said. “We had a lot of ideas and each of them was considered before making the final decision for the mural.”
    “I thought that the different viewpoints would be a good thing because they will challenge each other’s ideas,” Townsend said. “They won’t all just accept whatever idea is presented, they would go back and forth a little bit. I knew that and I had those intentions when I chose them.”
    With an approved idea in mind, the next step was to find time to do the painting. PJHS Principal Bryan Hensley gave his approval for the students to paint the mural during the week of PARCC testing, April 9 to 13. Testing took place on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, but Townsend said not much is planned for students on that Tuesday and Thursday.
    “Hensley suggested we could use those two days, April 10 and 12, to see how much painting we could get finished,” Townsend said. “We were kind of in awe that it only took two days to get the mural done, but we spent the entirety of those two days painting.”
    The students were split into two groups, a morning and afternoon. Townsend said the morning group spent the longest amount of time on the mural each day because lunches fall later in the day.
    “The four students that started in the morning were particularly sore by lunch because we stood the whole time and our arms were often above our heads while we painted,” Townsend said. “We also had to be able to move around other people to paint.”
    Before the start of the initial painting session, the students had to project the image on the wall. Townsend said it took a while to figure out the perfect size and where the mural should be placed. Not long after the students had prepared the image to be traced, they ran into their next issues.
    “It took us longer to trace than we expected because it’s a brick wall and it has all these divots in it,” Wolf said. “It took us a while to position the sketch and then when we had it in place and started tracing it the projector turned off. When we turned it back on, we couldn’t get it exactly back in place, so there was a little bit of extra creativity involved.”
    The students reported that the hardest part of painting the mural was envisioning the finished product in the preliminary stages.
    “At first, you couldn’t really tell what it was going to be, but when we started putting the detail in, it really started to look the way we had imagined it,” Lee said.
    Throughout the painting process, Townsend and the students appreciated the support from passing students and staff. Office secretary Michelle Snell took pictures to document the progress.
    “The students felt famous,” Townsend said. “As their peers would walk by, they would say supportive things like, ‘this looks awesome.’ We had one sixth grader who, every time she walked by would yell, ‘you can do it.’ It was nice to have the kids see and support our progress.”
    Although it was the first mural for the art teacher, Townsend said she has already heard from seventh grade students who want to do something similar next year.
    “It feels good to know that students are already seeking me out and getting excited about my ideas,” Townsend said. “I think we have a lot of creative people at the school, they just have never had art before. It gets students excited to come to class and makes them want to be more involved.”
    The eighth graders feel good about it, too.
    “I still enjoy walking by the mural and looking at it,” Wolf said. “You walk by the mural and think, ‘hey, I did that.’”