After a month of work, a group of students from Lincoln High School are putting the finishing touches on a mural they started in July as part of a park restoration project.
Taking some guidance from residents involved in the Madison Avenue Block Association, the 17 students, who are rising seniors, spend four days a week painting a mural they hope will make Cornelius Parker Park a more inviting place for kids. For their efforts, the Lincoln High students earned a stipend for their time and hard work and learned important team-building skills.
Named after a former Jersey City school board trustee and Ward F City Councilman, Cornelius Parker Park was first opened years ago, but had become run-down and looked as unkempt, according to some residents in the Bergen-Lafayette/Greenville community where the park is located.
Early this year, the Madison Avenue Block Association reached out to the Jersey City Employment and Training Program to see if there were any local students who might be interested in helping to improve the area. The program in turn reached out Ramon Tejada, a teacher at Lincoln High School who has led student generated mural projects in the past. Students applied for the program in March.
‘We wanted the mural to be something that little kids could relate to.’ – Princess Fortune
The project is co-sponsored by the Jersey City Employment and Training Program, the Jersey City Dept. of Education, and the Department of Public Works, which provided the paint used for the mural.
‘A collage of ideas’
The mural was specifically designed to appeal to younger children, ages 4 to 6, who attend a kindergarten across the street from the park and who use it as their playground.
“We wanted it to be something that little kids could relate to. So, there are lots of cartoon characters in the mural they probably know from watching TV,” said Princess Fortune, one of the students who is working on the mural.
“It’s almost like a collage of ideas,” Tejada added. “It’s an ongoing thing. If someone comes up with an idea, we’ll try to fit it in.”
Given the target age group the mural is meant to appeal to, it’s not surprising that it features a rainbow, clouds, butterflies, helicopters, planes, animals and such characters as Dora the Explorer and Mickey Mouse. There’s also a hopscotch board and a scene of youngsters playing bottle caps.
The most challenging aspect of the project, according to Tejada, was the low height of the mural wall and the large number of people working on it.
“The most difficult part of this mural is that the height of the wall is only four feet,” he said. “That makes it a little harder to work on than a mural that’s six or seven feet high. You have to get down pretty low and it does kind of affect how you plan your design.”
“You also have 17 people doing this,” Tejada continued. “So, that’s where I gave to ask myself, ‘Who are my painters? Who are my drawers? Who are my paint mixers? Who’s good at collecting all the material and organizing? Who’s here early every morning and can start prepping up?’ If I see someone is doing something well in one area of the mural, I might say, ‘Come here, I want you to do that over there.’”
While community beautification was a primary goal of the project, so too was skills training for the students, who learned the vaule of cooperation and teamwork.
Fortune said the project made her see the value of doing a job that her personal meaning for her.
“Communities are always looking for young kids like us to be more involved,” she noted. “So this was a way for us to show we care about what’ going on in our community. But it was also a good experience, at least for me personally, because I had a job this summer that I was really interested in…And I think that helped me be a better worker.”
Interestingly, there was little concern that the students’ efforts would eventually be marred by graffiti, even though graffiti in playgrounds has been a recent problem in some areas of the city.
“I have three murals up in the high school that I worked on with [other] students and nobody has touched those,” said Tejada, who said he grew up in the 1980s, when several notable graffiti artists were making their mark, both literally and figuratively. “I can’t worry about graffiti. We put them up. After that, it’s out of our hands.”
Tejada said he hopes this mural becomes a model idea that will be duplicated in years to come.
“I hope this will have a Domino effect throughout the Greenville area,” he said. “Lincoln High School students have done mural projects before, but they were in-house. This is the first time that we’ve actually left school property, went into the community, with students from the community, to beautify a small park. I hope that some other artists in this area will begin to partner with the community to do similar projects like this to improve the neighborhood.”
In addition to painting the mural, each day the Lincoln students worked they also started their day by watering a the flowers and plants in a community garden across the street from Cornelius Parker Park.
E-mail E. Assata Wright at firstname.lastname@example.org.