The New York City LAB School for Collaborative Studies is a public middle and high school in the Chelsea neighborhood on the west side of Manhattan. Kids at LAB, as it is commonly known, work in small groups together, and from that experience, learn about collaboration, negotiation, tolerance and acceptance. Kids from the five boroughs attend this school for gifted children who must pass strict admissions requirements. The LAB community is literally a rainbow, with kids from all different backgrounds and cultures from around the globe, and it is this diversity that makes the school “rich” on a number of levels. My son, Jacob, now in high school, went there for middle school, and now my younger son, Ben, is attending middle and high school there. LAB has some wonderful teachers and enrichment programs. One in particular is the Groundswell Community Mural Project.
Just the other day, my husband, Peter and I went to witness the unveiling of an amazing mural that LAB students from two classes collaborated on with a talented teaching artist, Nicole. Before seeing the mural, we went to Ms. Riina’s (art) classroom, where the 8th grade students, including my son, Ben, spoke eloquently about the process of designing and executing the mural—how they came up with visual concepts to address the issues of diversity, tolerance and acceptance. Their collective thoughts and ideas for the mural came out of group discussions about diversity. After initial sketches, the students created silhouettes of themselves (adolescents) and of their own hands, which would eventually be painted permanently on the wall in exaggerated form. I was just awestruck by the final outcome as it is a striking piece of art.
While the mural was in progress, the school community experienced a terrible tragedy–the unexpected death of a 13 year old Lab student, Jabu. Jabu also has a sister at LAB. In response, students decided to enhance the message behind the mural with a larger-than-life image of Jabu, to whom the final work was dedicated. When we were at the “opening” of the mural, Jabu’s mom was there with Ben’s class, seeing the mural for the first time. I had chills all over. I spoke to Jabu’s mom, as did my husband. She said she had no words for this extraordinary tribute to her late son. I got very choked up, with tears welling in my eyes. Although I have always appreciated mural art, I never thought deeply enough about the passion and raw emotion that goes into creating one. I am sure that this mural left an indelible impression on NYC Lab School students and in the process, taught them some incredible life lessons. It is also why we must support art in our public schools and do all that we can to retain funding for such programs that enhance our child’s lives in myriad ways.