FREEHOLD TOWNSHIP – The walls of the Marshall W. Errickson School on Elton-Adelphia Road in Freehold Township have been painted by pupils with murals that promote social and emotional health.
Principal Cathy Areman explained that the murals represent the five components of social emotional learning: self-awareness, self-management, relationships with others, responsible decision making and social awareness.
“One of our school goals this year is to promote social and emotional health for our students. Not only are we monitoring how our students are feeling and functioning, but we are teaching them explicit skills and strategies so they can monitor their own feelings and help themselves when needed,” Areman said.
At Errickson, which educates pupils from kindergarten through fifth grade, the children in each grade level were assigned one social emotional skill and asked to draw pictures of what that skill meant to them.
“Kindergarten and first grade (pupils) worked on self-awareness, or having a growth mindset.
“Our second grade pupils worked on self-management, specifically, managing your emotions and using stress management techniques.
“Third grade worked on relationship skills, getting along with others and practicing teamwork.
“Fourth grade worked on responsible decision making, which means anticipating and evaluating the consequences of their decisions.
“Fifth grade worked on social awareness, identifying unjust social norms and opportunities for change,” Areman said.
The idea for the project at Errickson took root about six years ago when Areman saw murals painted at a school in Morristown. She was informed artist Caren Frost Olmsted had worked with students to make the murals and that every child had helped to paint the murals.
“I thought this would be an amazing project for our school, but the logistics didn’t seem to be in place for us at that time,” Areman explained.
“Two years ago, I attended my high school reunion and met the wife of a classmate who happened to work with the artist on the murals in Morristown. The time was right, so I presented the project to our PTO, which generously agreed to fund it,” the principal said.
Planning for the mural project began in 2019, but due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, it was postponed until January 2021. Areman said painting began on March 1 and the final protective coat was added on March 30.
Areman said as part of the project, each child submitted their own thoughts about what the ideas of social emotional learning mean in practice.
Olmsted took the pupils’ thoughts and ideas and created each mural design. Once the designs were finalized, Olmsted drew the outlines of each mural on a wall and every student had the opportunity to help paint a mural.
“It was just like a coloring book, but on the walls. In addition to students painting the designs, we were able to have parents come to school in the afternoon to help out as well, and of course, our staff played a big part in painting and completing the project,” Areman said.
One mural depicts a bookshelf and that particular design gave families a chance to help fund the project.
“Parents could purchase a ‘book’ on the bookshelf and have their family name added to the spine. We were pleasantly surprised to see how popular that part of the project was. We sold all of the available books in the mural and had many families that are no longer at Errickson participate in the Legacy Book Project. The legacy books helped to fund a large portion of the cost of the murals,” Areman said.
Safety protocols associated with the pandemic were followed during the project, according to the principal.
“While we planned for the murals to depict the elements of social emotional health, what we did not realize was that the process of painting the murals was a source of support for everyone who participated.
“Students, staff and parents all agreed sharing the painting was an opportunity to relax and reset their emotions.
“Many people volunteered to come back again to help with the project because it just made them feel good about themselves. Volunteering and serving a bigger cause is always a great way to feel good about yourself.
“Now that the murals are completed, we have realized the nature of the murals have helped to transform our work space. Whenever you walk down the hallway, you get a sense of calm and peace. The hallway just makes everyone happy,” Areman said.