‘We Are One Team’ Mural Created By Reed Educator
The words “We Are One Team” now welcome everyone who enters the hallway behind the main gymnasium at Reed Intermediate School; and those words are just the start.
Down the stretch of the hallway, which leads to physical education teacher offices and the Project Adventure gym, Reed health teacher Michelle Failla has painted silhouetted students performing all kinds of athletic and physical feats.
“It’s beautiful. It’s inclusive,” said Reed Principal Dr Matt Correia, summarizing just some of the many reasons he and the students “love” the new mural.
Failla spent many hours conceptualizing, tracing, outlining, and painting the mural. In 2017, after graduating from Central Connecticut State University for the third time, this time with a degree in educational leadership in social justice, Failla served as physical education teacher for one year. The combination and timing inspired her to create the life-size silhouettes of children.
The equity and inclusion lessons she brought back to Reed from her 2017 degree are in every stroke of paint, along with her determination that every child feel part of the team.
“I wanted the children to be able to see themselves,” said Failla.
Failla has been the health teacher at Reed for 18½ years, with the exception of the year she spent teaching physical education. She has forged connections with many students and she wanted every child to walk down this hallway and feel included and inspired.
She took a year drawing stencils of the images she wanted to place on the wall. Every school morning and during her lunches, she drew. After receiving permission to begin the mural, Failla began taping one stencil at a time to the wall. Reed head custodian Darren Pierre helped Failla outline some images on his breaks at the school, too.
Slowly, the hallway was covered with dancing, jumping, and goal-scoring figures: gymnasts, soccer players, snowboarders, swimmers, and more.
The COVID-19 pandemic prolonged the project, but Failla kept at it.
Some of the silhouettes are based on real students, though their identities are only known to Failla and a select few others in those cases. The football and cheerleader paintings near the start of the hallway were inspired by the Newtown High School football team’s big 2019 win in the Class LL state championship and the cheerleading team winning the South-West Conference championship that same year.
There are many stories behind the paintings.
Reed Project Adventure teacher Sara Strait is one of the paintings, and students, staff, and visitors alike can guess which one that is. Across from physical education teacher Beth Gattey’s office, Failla placed a special portrait that involves Gattey and her dog, Luna, on a paddle board.
While Failla completed the mural in the second half of the 2020-21 school year, she still has ideas. There is more “blank” space, after all.
Standing in the hallway recently, Failla looked around, holding her hand out and touching some of the portraits. She was playful when deciding where to place the images, like a student fishing with the fishing line going up and over a wall to a fish that “jumps” just above a water fountain, when seen from “just the right angle.”
The students are painted in black on the white hallway backdrop, and the pops of color are from the sport item or activity each is interacting with. In one portrait of a student in a wheelchair holding a ball, the ball is painted red.
Failla wanted inclusivity to be prevalent, because seeing themselves portrayed is important for Reed’s fifth and sixth graders. At that impressionable age, Failla explained, it can inspire students to explore their options and try new things, and build their self-esteem.
“As an educator, I couldn’t ask for more; to put a smile on a student’s face and make them feel loved and respected,” said Failla.
There are many “funny little things” Failla added to the paintings, and hidden metaphors. She hopes the zipliner, for instance, is a reminder for students to “just hang on. Life is good, give it a chance,” Failla said.
While Failla said she is not a professional artist — like her husband, Pino Failla, is — she is no stranger to art and crafts.
Surveying the hallway and her years of work behind it, Failla said, “It really was a labor of love.”
“Overall, it is a nice reminder of teamwork,” said Dr Correia.
Eliza Hallabeck can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.