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La Mesa Dale Elementary partners with Grossmont College to Provide a Playground Mural

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Grossmont College art professor makes a semester-long project of planning then painting a 192-foot playground mural on cinder block walls at La Mesa Dale Elementary School.

In a time when TikTok challenges have spurred youngsters to acts of destruction on school property, La Mesa Dale Elementary is celebrating the enhancement of their school thanks to a partnership with a Grossmont College art class.

The partnership began with the mom of a La Mesa Dale Elementary School student. As a veteran of the armed forces pursuing her degree in art, giving her thought and effort to improving her child’s school community would seem a natural continuation of Ellen Damore’s service to our country. She asked her art professor at Grossmont College, Jennifer Bennett, if she’d be willing to create a mural for the school. Ms. Bennett, MFA is an Art Professor of Drawing and Painting and was happy to connect with the school.

Professor Bennett said, “Once I saw a photo of the 192-foot playground wall, I decided it should be something fun and playful that engages the length of the wall.” She took an idea to her class. Her students would work for an entire semester planning a gift of art that would enhance the aesthetic of the school’s outdoor play area and provide a beautiful, living example of creative collaboration. 

Then for four days in early October 2021, art students from Grossmont College executed their vision across 192 feet of cinder block walls surrounding the outdoor playground. Through their efforts, the long cinder block wall was transformed into a colorful mural that brightens the space for the youngsters who play on their school playground frequently.

Professor Bennett said creating the mural was not without its challenges though. The art students encountered challenges working on a cinder block wall as their “canvas.” The rough, porous surfaces of the bricks and grooves between each brick required the application of additional layers of paint to fill in the little holes and smooth out the lines between blocks. And students also had to contend with the unpredictability of working outside in the elements. Ms. Bennett said, “Working outside in the elements is tough. Sometimes it is sunny and hot, or windy, and it even rained! The canopy blew away and dirt blew into our eyes, but we persevered!” 

For the students who were able to participate, this project was an incredible learning experience. Most of them had never painted a mural before, so having the opportunity to brainstorm and conceptualize ideas then critically think about what steps they’d need to take to efficiently create the mural required team work, collaboration and good communication. This project provided the chance for the students to practice basic skills, like opening a can of paint and cleaning brushes, and to problem solve as they worked to reduce wasted paint, organize supplies and manage the overall process. 

And Ms. Bennett says this project has changed her teaching as well. She says, “Such a large project teaches everyone patience, reminds us to take a step back to see the big picture, take breaks and deep breaths, and to enjoy the process!” 

A visual feast for the eyes, the mural features a winding ribbon of rainbow colors winding across the entire length of the wall. Additional details are added above and below the ribbon, including grass and flowers at ground level and rain clouds and butterflies above. One focal point shows a wise owl clutching the ribbon in its beak. Another attention-capturing detail shows a large sun with rays reaching out behind the rainbow ribbon. The rainbow ribbon is peppered with small water waves both above and beneath.

Professor Bennett said of such public art, ““Art can create such a welcoming environment and we can all use a little sunshine in our lives right now.” As with any mural, the art provides beauty and thought provoking details for the observer. And just as the many colors of the rainbow represented in the ribbon, the mural is a reminder to observers of the universal accessibility of public art to all, regardless of age, gender, ethnicity or any other difference. Simply stated, such public displays of art unify people, just as La Mesa Elementary School and Grossmont college students unified in the creation of this piece. 

The students worked to complete the mural as a surprise for staff, students and the families of La Mesa Dale Elementary when they returned from their fall break. Unsurprisingly, staff, students and parents all viewed the new artistic addition to their campus with excitement. The bright-colored, joy-inspiring mural brings smiles to children’s faces, a sense of pride in their school campus and a feeling of caring for important places and people. Some people even hopped out of their cars to snap pictures of the new art.

Due in part to the positive experience of professor and students and the positive feedback from the school community, Ms. Bennett will be returning to La Mesa Dale Elementary again in the spring to paint another mural in the outdoor lunch quad area with a new class of “Intro to Mural Painting and Design” students.

Ms. Bennett offers an invitation to the community to join in her classes at Grossmont College. She says, “Anyone can take a class at the community college. We have so much to offer all age groups from 16 – 86, everyone has a chance to explore and learn new things. And for the students that are maybe 8 or 10 years old at La Mesa Dale, hey, I will still be teaching at Grossmont College when they are ready!”

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