IMG_3479

Although inspired by 20/20’s Vocational Calling, a Brooklyn father struggled to identify where he fit into 20/20’s strategy. He didn’t run a community group or lead a congregation, so he couldn’t commit an organization to adopt a school. Nor was he involved in direct youth work, so he couldn’t directly empower students to lead change within their schools. And his son attended private schools so volunteering for public education reform was difficult.

In September 2009, Jeremy and his wife enrolled their son in their local public school for fourth grade. Dropping him off that first day, they were struck by the instructional signs in a dozen or more languages plastered on the school entrance. Combined with the traditional clothing worn by many parents, the visible diversity energized them.

A couple of weeks later at an open house, Jeremy and his wife met their son’s teacher for the first time. Accents, surnames, and attire suggested that the other parents were born in the Middle East, Latin America, Eastern Europe, and Asia.

The following week, Jeremy met his son’s teacher to see how his transition to a new school was going and to learn more about the curriculum. She explained that fourth grade emphasizes not just literacy, but more specifically revising and editing written work. As an occasional writer, this both thrilled and concerned Jeremy. Editing happens best one-on-one, but she had twenty-five students, and twelve were learning English as a second language.

How could she manage to edit so many students at various skill-levels at once? She invited Jeremy to come in once a week to provide more focused help for students who needed it, which he did from October through June. By December, he was mentoring an immigrant student from Yemen once a week for an hour. When the school year ended, the school granted permission for Jeremy to continue mentoring the student the following year.

Jeremy met the school’s parent coordinator on Halloween, and she asked if he would consider helping start a writing club. Specifically, she was concerned about budget cuts to the school newspaper, and wanted to explore non-traditional media as a platform for student writing. Five weeks later, together with the parent coordinator and another parent volunteer, Jeremy co-designed and launched an online journalism club with twelve fourth graders representing all eight fourth grade classes at the school.

The club’s premise was that the most interesting stories are the stories of lives lived everyday, and club members were challenged to live their best lives now. Journalism is one way to capture those stories and celebrate the life of their school with others. From January to June, they published six issues of their Virtual Journal, organized around six basic questions every good storyteller must answer: who, what, when, where, how, and why.

In September 2010, the school established the Journalism Stars club as a permanent extra-curricular option under the leadership of a teacher. Visit journalismstars.wordpress.com to see their work. Bill continued to volunteer at the school through his son’s 5th grade graduation in June 2011, coaching the Journalism club, tutoring ESL students, and coordinating an 875-square foot public art mural project.

[Meet the neighborhood church and art center than made the mural possible in partnership with PS 102 here.]

The Bay Ridge Eagle published a beautiful story on the PS 102 Mural in the July 21 issue. Here’s an excerpt:

“When P.S. 102 Principal Teresa Dovi and her students wanted to find a nice way to greet visitors at their school, they didn’t hang up a “Welcome” sign. They picked up paintbrushes.

“Working with a local artist, Sam Wisneski, and a group of more than 400 volunteers that included parents and local residents, Dovi and the students painted a mural on the outside wall of the school building facing the schoolyard.”

The article also describes the creative process:

The mural is the brainchild of Jeremy Del Rio, a P.S. 102 parent, who brought his idea to Parent Coordinator Margaret Sherri. Once Sherri secured Dovi’s approval, Del Rio brought Wisneski and the Storefront Arts Center in.

Del Rio said that the idea came to him one day while be was bringing his son to school.

“I saw a lot of signs on the wall with instructions for parents in a dozen different languages. I started to think about all of the different nationalities represented in our school,” he said.

The idea for some type of mural started to develop. Around the same time, scaffolding that had surrounded the school building for a repair project was taken down.

“It gave us a blank canvas,” Del Rio said.

The students inspired the design of the mural, Del Rio said.

“We had a contest in January. We sent notices home with the students telling them the contest theme, ‘How do you welcome guests into your home?’ We encouraged the kids to be as creative as possible. We received over 100 submissions,” he said.

Children came into school with collages, poems, stories and items from their homes. One child came to school with a tea set and explained that her parents, who are from the Middle East, welcome visitors to their home by pouring them cups of tea.

A small group composed of Del Rio, Wisneski, Sherri and members of a new art committee formed by the P.S. 102 Parents Association reviewed the submissions and decided what to include in the mural design. “As we were looking at everything the children submitted, the narrative took shape,” Wisneski said.

Wisneski then created the painting that would serve as the template for the mural. Once that was done, it was time for the task of translating the painting onto the brick wall of the school.

In order to make the process orderly, Wisneski divided the wall up into grids that would contain tiny sections of the mural.

“It’s a very ancient process. The ancient Egyptians used it,” he said.

Enjoy the full story here.