“All Voices Must Be Heard”
“It was this drawing that made me realize I wanted to highlight the student’s work more than anything,” Thrive teaching artist Vanesa said as she introduced the new “Dream Big” Gleane Street mural at P.S. 89Q. The drawing shows two figures between the phrase, “All voices must be heard.”
Taking the student’s words to heart, Vanesa included her fourth and fifth-grade student’s input in every aspect of the mural. “I loved their sense of humor,” she said as she pointed to an image of a “parrot pirate” that a student came up with.
“Another student asked if we could put a rainbow in the background because her older brother was being bullied at school.” The student wanted to use her voice to support her brother. “They really opened up to us,” Vanesa said.“Of course we were going to add the rainbow. How could we say no?”
Dreaming into Reality
“I got to add symbols that represent me that will be a part of the school even when I am gone…My dream for the future is to become a veterinarian. Before we created the mural I got to think about how I can show that by using my artistic abilities,” said one student of her experience.
Both Yvette and Vanesa gave beautiful, heartfelt speeches about the joys of working with their students (in both English and Spanish) during the ribbon cutting. The bilingual Elmhurst, Queens school is one of the largest elementary schools in New York City. It also is the home of many new immigrants to the United States.
“I’m very honored because I grew up in this neighborhood. I’m a first generation Ecuadorian American. My parents, they came here from South America and they didn’t know a word of English, so education was always important to them. Twenty-two years ago, I graduated from college and I said I was going to come back here one day and help my community and here I am standing today,” Yvette said as she reflected on the Dream Big mural’s embodiment of her own dreams.
Beautifying Gleane Street
Principal La Sala explained that the school completed a mural in the schoolyard with Thrive through a Summer Rising Grant. She expressed her delight to invite Thrive back for a second mural project. “Thrive artists are extremely professional. They work with the students and staff and are always flexible to meet our needs.”
Moreover, the Gleane Street mural is painted alongside the Elmhurst school’s new open street, a closed off space that allows more open space for students to play outdoors and enjoy gym activities in the fresh air throughout their day.
Honoring a Legacy
In addition, the mural coincided with the renaming of the school to The José Peralta School of Dreamers. “He loved our school so much, so that’s why we decided to rename the school after him,” a school staff member explained.
Peralta (1971-2018) was a New York state senator and a huge supporter of the school’s students. A first-generation Dominican-American who grew up in the area, Peralta was dedicated to giving the students opportunities they wouldn’t have access to otherwise. He often took P.S. 89Q students to Broadway shows, funded school technology, and provided the entire school with central air conditioning. Further, Peralta was responsible for the José Peralta New York State DREAM Act, which gives undocumented students access to scholarships and grants as they pursue higher education.
Above all, school administration and teachers alike spoke of their appreciation for Yvette and Vanesa as they worked to create the Dream Big mural. Teacher Ms. Morgan noted her student’s joy throughout the process, “The kids were so excited. Every Tuesday they saw me in the hall and were like: We have after-school today! We’re painting today!”