Walking the halls of East, there are plenty of brown brick walls mixed with tones of red, cream and more shades of brown. But every so often, bits of color are painted across the halls adding light and joy, painting a bigger picture of what the student body is truly about. Between political posters, murals of planets, and displays of 3D art, the art department is displayed throughout the school, showing off many of East’s creative students creating a positive ripple throughout the student body.
Junior Kayla Harrington sees this ripple that art creates in her own school, Oswego High School. She described it as something that helps her education and will continue to help her through life.
“Being creative it supplements learning, writing english papers and will provide creativity for almost anything. It can inspire people to find something and work towards it, the can build their character and possibly even get their future career out of” Harrington said.
The National Art Honor Society is one of the schools biggest contributors to these displays of art education, as they volunteer frequently to increase art involvement in Oswego. NAHS sponsor and Art teacher Heather Stanich, along with the NAHS board engages in at least one chapter project yearly and many instances of volunteer work.
“I am there for every face painting event, I try to help out with the kids and try to show them and demonstrate. Sometimes we get dirty in here during the meetings.” Stanich said, “ I like to have the board members be the leaders though, I try to put more on the students, that’s the point of it. It needs to be student based and student centered” Stanich said.
In the many meetings over the last two years, they have been painting a mural to be displayed at the new and improved Oswego Police Department. This mural, alongside one from Oswego High School, was sketched last year after the Chief of Police, Jeff Burgner, initially commissioned the society to create the murals in the first place. Meetings took place with students and officers where they began to draft ideas for what exactly this mural would encompass: images of both the past and the future for East and OPD.
East’s resource officer Kristyn Chmielewski was one of the main people involved in brainstorming. Officers were in charge of helping to mold ideas from both OPD and East together in the murals, they also helped to sketch and draft ideas of what it could look like.
“We wanted to make sure we collectively got those ideas together and make it something bigger,” Chmielewski said.
Many students were a part of this process last year, finishing the majority of the basic backgrounds and shapes without the details and finishing touches. This year, in the past few weeks, they had to finish these touches, adding to the last strokes of letters, trees, and sky.
After the murals were done, they were transported, hung, and covered in OPD. They were to be displayed in a long hallway with large windows so they could be admired by onlookers other than in-training law enforcement, where the murals are currently located. The unveiling took place on November 20th at 4 p.m. where staff from the Police Department, the Village and students from both schools gathered to admire the two new pieces of art.
With speeches from Chief Burgner, Village President Troy Parlier, 308 Superintendent Dr. Sparlin and the Principals from both schools, the crowd saw what the murals were, but the arts unifying effect in a community.
“We engaged the art students at both schools and we worked together with them, our staff at the department actually went and did this, to help design the murals to give some insight on what we are about and what we do, and what the community means to us,” Chief Burgner said. “Looking at these murals, I feel that the students have captured the essence of that, and have interpreted it in a way that they were able to put able to put on the canvas.”
Newly-elected Village President Troy Parlier said he had pride for what the community has developed into and continued.
“For me, this really shows what our community is about. Everybody comes together and they pull on the same rope at the same time, great things happen. There is something good about Oswego that people can’t just put their finger on, and Oswego grows,” Parlier said. “Whereas the state is not so lucky, and more people are leaving. Not here. This is a great example of the goodness that exists, and what makes people feel comfortable in staying.”
This relationship between community leadership like police officers, elected officials and students, was seen throughout this ceremony. Chief Burgner said that showing how positive it is to have a police presence, especially one that is connected with everyone in the community.
“A big part of what we do, is building relationships with our youth. One of the things when we designed this building, is that I really wanted to engage this community and we wanted to bring the community in this building in different ways,” Burgner said.
Part of the officers jobs on a daily basis is not only to protect the community from daily crime, but preventing it from happening in the future. Oberwetter said that art is a way to provide positive releases, rather than breaking the law.
“Art is a great way of self expression and I feel like there are a lot of people who struggle to self express, people can get their feelings out without getting into trouble, whether it is within the school system or with the law,” Oberwetter said. “So it’s a great way to visually capture someone’s feelings and it’s good to look at for somebody who isn’t necessarily looking too deeply.”
Chief Burgner said that it is this impact that he wants to see more often, and he hopes that a better relationship with the youth might lead to a better turn out.
“We had an opportunity to interact with different students that we would not otherwise get to interact with, other than this project. Generally, if we are in the educational environment it’s with kids that are interested in law enforcement,” Burgner said. “But I think by creating this partnership, we’ve now had a positive interactions with some students that we might not have otherwise had an impact.”
Principal Laura Bankowski said it’s an opportunity that not many have and it can greater impact the student body.
“I think that these types of opportunities are phenomenal, and whenever we can find it, I think it’s truly great, when we can join the community and partner with the police department, showing them how amazing our students are. They are exemplary through and through,” Bankowski said. She also referenced the school’s most recent achievement, reaching exemplary status in the state for grades and programs offered.
Senior and NAHS President Grace Oberwetter said that this experience shows that OPD is at the same level as students in the community.
“We can all work together and come together as one,” Oberwetter said.
Despite this, there was still some form of separation among the two high schools, showing the rift that has existed since the schools’ creations. The corridor in the training wing where the murals are located also featured chairs that corresponded to each school’s colors.
A student artist and NAHS member from Oswego High School, Kayla Harrington explained her take on the rivalry between the schools.
“It’s almost a competition, because of course you want to see who has the better mural,” Harrington said. “When it comes down to it, we are both donating a mural to OPD, so it is something to bring us together. We are still working at a common goal, that we both, as schools, deserve to do this.”
Art and its effects, however, overshadowed the underlying tones of competition. Attendees commented on how art was not only positive for the local community, but for themselves as people. East alumni Sebastian Ruggiero said he has felt the impact of art in his own life.
“Art is something, no matter who you are, it can resonate with on an emotional level. It breaks down different barriers, like here, from one school to another,” Ruggiero said.
Oberwetter also said that breaking down barriers, by stopping and talking to people about art or expressing emotions, leads to a more positive outlook on life and can show what society can develop into.
“Art can show hope. It can show that we think alike, and in society now we tend to not meet the people who are near us. We walk past them and we’ll get to know them on a small level, but we don’t actually get to know them. I don’t think we realize that we are more similar than different, and we for some reason want to focus on that difference,” Oberwetter said. “Art can show that we all might have the same hope for our future, we might all have the same ideas for who we want to be as a community.”
Ashlyn Pearson is a staff writer for Oswego East High School’s online news magazine the Howl