Student-Created Murals Bring Jewish Values to Life in an Exhilarating, Shared, and Imaginative Manner

Teachers in Jewish schools often wonder:

– How can our students work together in a supportive, caring manner?
– How can we teach Jewish values in unique, different, and engaging ways?
– How can students of different abilities and learning styles share their strengths?
– How can we enhance our students’ creativity?

Student-created murals offer surprising and wonderful answers to these questions by providing the following benefits:

A positive learning environment – Mural projects excite youngsters. Children intuitively know that they’ll be moving their bodies, using their imagination, and working together. These are all natural ways for kids to learn. In addition to creating lots of enthusiasm, a mural project also provides a nurturing space for students to take risks. Mural projects offer constant opportunities for success and help to develop students’ self-esteem and self-confidence.

Peaceful interactions and community building – Most synagogue-based Hebrew/religious schools’ curriculum are designed as a progressive climb to becoming a Bar/Bat Mitzvah. Sometimes this Hebrew/religious school journey parallels a student’s secular educational experience, where grades are assigned as signs of success.

With mural projects, the focus is changed to a group accomplishment. Students work in teams to brainstorm themes, sketch designs, and paint together. This sort of interaction may be one of the few times that students have worked in such a collaborative and cooperative manner. Also, using the arts as a vehicle for learning was frequently a new experience for many students. The process is liberating, healing, empowering, and inspiring. It offers students a real life experience that demonstrates the power of community and teamwork to reach a common goal.

Talking and doing, a powerful combination – Both the content and process of mural-making supports Jewish educational curricular goals. For instance, at Barnert Temple in Franklin Lakes, New Jersey, students explored the idea “Mitzvah Goreret Mitzvah” (one good deed leads to another) in hevruta, or pairs. They discussed the idea that when others are kind to them, they in turn pay it forward and are kind to others. Creating a visual representation on the mural of what “Mitzvah Goreret Mitzvah” meant to them made the lesson significant, powerful, and enduring.

Inclusiveness – Many students can take part in the numerous steps that are involved in a mural’s creation and completion. Younger children enjoy drawing images and painting them in. Older children embrace the sophisticated concepts of composition, color mixing, and theme development. Parents and community members happily help out.

Students with ADHD and other learning challenges also thrive, since the mural requires a variety of skills that do not characteristically come into play in a typical classroom setting.

Unleashed creativity – Mural projects allow for students and adults to claim or reclaim their creative spirits. Their eagerness to contribute to the mural is kindled, nurtured, and supported.

Community pride – A large, prominently displayed, and permanent mural in a synagogue-based Hebrew/religious school or Jewish day school fosters a tremendous sense of pride among students, parents, staff, and administrators, and acts as a daily reminder of a school’s values.

By introducing a mural project into their curriculum, teachers in a Jewish day school or a synagogue-based Hebrew/religious school can bring an exciting, imaginative, and dynamic approach to teaching Jewish values. Students engage with this kind of a project in an passionate, energetic, and highly focused manner. When Jewish values are taught through a variety of processes (such as discussion, collaboration, sketching, and painting) a deeper understanding is acquired.

Jennifer
Levine
is an accomplished Jewish educator and visual artist. After receiving her
B.A. in Jewish studies from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, she spent
a year studying Jewish texts at the Pardes Institute in Jerusalem. She has been
a teacher for over twenty
years and a school director for fifteen years. She is currently the founder/director of The Peace
Garden Song and Mural Project
, an initiative that brings collaborative art,
music, and mindfulness education to Jewish and secular schools across the
U.S.A..