It’s tradition that the Oak Hill Elementary School graduating class leaves a legacy gift to the school before heading to middle school. The gift could be anything the school might need, including a piece of furniture, playground or gym equipment, or a learning aid. The class of 2022 took a creative approach for its legacy gift by creating a one-of-a-kind mural designed and partially painted by each of the 120 students in the graduating class.
Jaclyn Phelan, library media specialist at Oak Hill Elementary, was one of the parents of fifth-graders on a committee tasked with coming up with the legacy gift. The idea for the gift developed by the committee was an inspirational mural to be painted on a large blank wall outside Phelan’s media center. Once the idea was approved by the committee, Phelan brought in the fifth-graders to design the mural.
Using the school’s “Rise Above” motto for the school year, Phelan, who teaches every fifth-grader in class during the school week, put the planning into the literal and figurative hands of the fifth-graders.
“Each fifth-grade class helped to come up with the elements and overall design of the mural,” Phelan said. “They also researched colors to be used.”
After the students’ input, Phelan sketched a rough outline of what the kids wanted. On the far left of the mural, students can be seen giving one another a hand to help everyone rise up the hill. A radiant sun was added to the center with the quote, “We rise by lifting others.” On the right, an oak tree was added, as well as Oak Hill Elementary School perched atop a book that reads, “Once upon a time, there was a school.” Across the rolling hills are the handprints of each of the 120 rising middle school students, and oversized black-eyed Susans (the Maryland state flower). Phelan gave the sketch to her mother, artist Debbie Coulter, to make the picture come alive.
Coulter painted the mural during school days, so the fifth-graders watched their vision go from paper to wall in real time. The final touches were special messages from each graduating student to incoming students.
“Each student came up with a character trait they felt helped them excel at Oak Hill,” Phelan said. “This group of students was so special and unique. The traits left behind promote the students’ own voices, and I just love how the traits are on the lower portion of the mural so that younger students can read the traits and hopefully be inspired.”
The mural was finished before the end of the school year.
Principal Deneen Houghton is thrilled with the mural and happily accepted the gift on behalf of the school.
“Jackie is just incredible. She cares very deeply for the students, and what she does for our school goes well beyond any lesson,” Houghton said. “She has totally transformed the media center into a vibrant, student-center place to learn. This mural is truly a gift from the students, made by the students, and for the students to come.”
As her own daughter leaves Oak Hill and heads to Severna Park Middle School, Phelan added from personal experience, “Some of the students were sad to leave Oak Hill, but the mural really helps them feel like they will always be an important part of our school community.”