If you’ve walked through the hallways at Westwind Elementary, you can’t help but notice the elaborate artwork featuring different monumental figures in history. Qualimetra Chapman, Westwind Counselor, believes that it’s important to show students artwork that showcases unity and diversity.  We spoke with Chapman about the two different pieces of artwork in the hallways and her goals behind this initiative.

What is the inspiration behind the artwork displays in the cafeteria at Westwind Elementary? 

I do a weekly grade level lesson in the cafeteria. There were five 18-foot boards that we had the opportunity to cover. I wanted to do something purposeful that would connect to at least one of the lessons we would cover during the school year. I also needed to make sure the boards were colorful and fun for the students. I brainstormed with Mrs. Macias, our previous CIS coordinator, and we decided to pick five individuals that we would teach about later in the school year. I chose Sitting Bull because we had a student who was from one of the Sioux tribes. She was proud of Sitting Bull because he was known for bravery and wisdom. I knew we would cover him in November during Native American Heritage Month. We chose Frida Kahlo because we would discuss her during Hispanic Heritage Month and Women History Month. She is a symbol of stoicism, so it gives an opportunity to teach endurance and finding beauty in all things. We also chose Dr. King because he is a Nobel Peace Prize recipient, and August 28th marked the 60th anniversary of the “I Have a Dream” speech. We also chose Dr. King to help students understand why they get to miss school on MLK. Malala Yousafzai would be another Nobel Peace Prize recipient that we would discuss during Women’s History Month. We have parents and subs who wear their hijab to Westwind, so we felt like it would give an opportunity for those families to feel welcomed to Westwind. Albert Einstein was chosen because we cover him during our unit on Growth Mindset. Students are surprised to find out that he is believed to have had learning disabilities. This creates an opportunity for dialogue about being different and still finding great success.

What was the creation process like of these educational pieces of art? 

After we narrowed down who would go on the boards, we divvied up responsibilities based on our strengths. We only had a week to get the boards done before in-service would take place, so it was fast. We designed each board on paper first and then began to cut out and make the details. Each board had a 3D feature of some sort, so we figured out what to focus on for that. We chose the American flag for Dr. King’s board, the hijab and butterflies for Malala Yousafzai, flowers for Frida Kahlo’s floral crown, facial hair for Einstein and the braids for Sitting Bull. I covered the carpeted walls with butcher paper, we decided where each person would go, and we just began to piece it together until we were happy. Mrs. Macias is really detailed oriented, so once we had the faces up, we talked about how to add the detail to make it look extra special.

Why do you think it’s important to create artwork that highlights inclusion and diversity in schools?  

I am pretty passionate about ensuring that all people feel like they belong and are valued. I am intentional about making sure that no matter what part of the world you are from, when you enter Westwind and walk down our halls, you will see someone that you can relate to. I feel like highlighting inclusion and diversity in schools is important because it teaches students to empathize with, appreciate, and have compassion for people who are different from them. How children are treated because of their differences has a dramatic effect on how they view themselves and the world around them. So highlighting inclusion and diversity creates a campus culture that celebrates and invites differences instead of judging and criticizing them.

How long have you been creating artwork like this at Westwind? 

Westwind’s previous principal, Brandy Copeland, asked me if I could figure out something to do in the cafeteria because the carpeted walls had the same items for over a decade. So I have been able to decorate the cafeteria boards for 3 years now. Last year was the first year that we decided to focus on the hallways, so the collaborative posters are relatively new.

Your primary role is serving as the counselor at Westwind. What encouraged you to tap into your creative artistic side? 

Outside of school, I spend most of my extra time creating. Any time I read information, I picture what it would look like. Any time I am intrigued by something, I wonder how it would look or be if it was upside down, or more colorful, or with texture. I thought everyone’s brain worked that way, so I never considered any of it artistic… just brainstorming or creating for fun. I didn’t realize any of the bulletin boards or the hallway collaborative posters were considered artistic until I kept hearing it. I just thought of it as a way to collaborate creatively and display student work with purpose.

Whether I have a small group lesson, whole group lesson, or grade level presentation, I try to find a way to make sure it has a fun and creative component to it. Sometimes that includes music, movement, beading, or painting. I spend a lot of time recreating documents and forms because I love when things come together cohesively. I am not sure I tapped into it or if I am putting it on pause to complete the bulk of my work. I will say having Mrs. Macias made it easier because she was someone I would think through the creative process with. We met weekly to figure out how we could enrich the lives of our students in a creative way.

Why do you think it’s important to educate students about cultural diversity? 

Elementary age students have a natural curiosity about the difference in their appearance and cultural backgrounds. Educating students on cultural diversity can help students learn a lot about themselves and those around them. It also helps to prevent students from developing prejudices later in life. Celebrating the traits that make others different builds a campus of acceptance, empathy and kindness.