The first thing that you notice when you walk into the courtyard of the Churchill Way campus of Dallas International School is the color. Not only are there vibrant play structures and buildings, but the northwest corner houses a huge mural that is a veritable rainbow. Visitors admire the whimsical characters and scenes that are depicted, but beneath the paint lies a vast number of educational opportunities for the students of DIS.
“Before the mural was painted, all the walls on that side of the school were white,” said Yohanis Mibrathu, director of preschool at DIS and the overseer of the mural project. “They were boring. We decided that we wanted to use those walls as a pedagogical tool.”
Initially, the plan was to paint numerous words on the wall so that students could enhance their vocabulary. But then bigger ideas began to surface.
“We started talking to different artists, and the one thing we told them is that the wall has to be interactive,” Mibrathu said. “One of the artists came up with the idea of using magnetic paint. The students could use magnets and change it based on the topic that they were working on.”
School administration loved the idea and the project began. There was only one problem. The artist, Jelena Opacic, had planned to move to California before the project would be finished. She knew she wouldn’t be able to complete the wall in time, so she sent out a call for help.
“We thought, why not organize some painting parties?” Mibrathu said. “So every weekend we would have painting parties and everyone came and painted. Complete strangers would stop by and help. We would start at 7:30 in the morning and go sometimes until midnight.”
Opacic would sketch the figures and characters on the wall and then assign colors to each section. Volunteers would simply paint in the assigned colors.
“It really became a community project,” Mibrathu said. “That was the most exciting part about it.”
Opacic left for California and the finishing touches were put on the project. Wherever shoelaces are depicted on characters, holes were punched in the wall and real laces were threaded through to help younger students learn to tie their shoes. A clear coat of paint was placed on the entire wall to protect it from weather damage.
Then, the administration let the kids have at it.
“Kids loved the colors, and they immediately wanted to touch them,” Mibrathu said. “Teachers would bring boxes of magnets for fractions or letters or whatever and use them to teach. They can draw up anything they want to teach on their computer and print it out on a magnetic sheet and use it.”
And it’s not just meant for fun and games. Mibrathu said the mural has helped the young students improve their cognitive skills immensely.
“Teachers are saying that it makes the kids verbalize,” Mibrathu said. “They ask questions. They want to speak about it. Sometimes you see kids gathering around it on their own and talking about it.”
The mural is now a hallmark of DIS, and it helps reinforce a well-known lesson about teaching children.
“Visual support is always better than the alternative,” Mibrathu said.