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Lynn students learn lessons through Beyond Walls art

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Students from Thurgood Marshall Middle School took a tour of the Beyond Walls murals in downtown Lynn on Friday. It was part of a new curriculum in Lynn Public Schools that focuses on social and emotional learning. (Bella diGrazia)

LYNN — Beyond Walls and its many downtown murals are making their way into Lynn’s classrooms.

The non-profit creative placemaking agency and Lynn Public Schools have teamed up on a curriculum that allows students to explore issues of interpersonal, social, and historical understanding through art. On Friday, students from Thurgood Marshall Middle School were on the first tour as part of the curriculum. 

They started off at the Swampscott commuter rail train station and got off in downtown Lynn before checking out several murals and hearing their background stories, told by Beyond Walls Founder/CEO Al Wilson and Associate Director Pedro Soto. The goal was to give students the full downtown experience, said Josie Santos, Beyond Walls Community Engagement Director.

“For kids, this is a way to improve how they see society and find ways to give them a sense of inclusion,” said Santos. “Our mural artists come from different countries all over the world, many of them speaking different languages, and that is the perfect representation of Lynn.”

The duo has dubbed the new program a culturally engaged outdoor museum, said Santos, who spent three months meeting with teachers, parents, and Lynn School Committee to come up with a strategic plan for the curriculum. The stops on the mural tour were chosen for their relationship to key learning goals aligned to the Lynn Public School’s strategic plan, she said.

One of the murals on the tour was the “Bordalo II” piece, which was created by the artist using recyclable materials. Santos said it was the perfect art story to tell in line with the book “Magic Trash” by J.H. Shapiro, which was used in the middle school classrooms in preparation of the downtown walk-through.

“I think this program is so great,” said Sarah McKenna, an English as a Second Language teacher at Marshall Middle School. “I love that the kids get to see some art done by artists who share their cultures. It’s an outlet for them to be able to express themselves, especially for some of my students who aren’t able to do that using language.”

The program was designed to offer opportunities for high quality engagement with the arts as aligned to the National Arts Education Association’s framework of four standards, said Santos. The standards include responding to the visual art, connecting art to the world and student experiences through discussion, creating work of their own which builds on their experiences, and using a cycle of feedback to give students practice presenting their work to others. 

Priorities from the Lynn Public Schools strategic plan were also taken into account during the design of the curriculum, said Santos. Those include teaching students that learning takes practice and persistence, there are learning strategies to approach art, all students, especially introverts and those who struggle with English, need to feel included more effectively, how to feel connected to their community, and how empathy plays a role in participating in the community.

The middle schoolers have finished the program, said Santos. Next up is implementing it on the elementary level.

“I think this was so cool,” said Marshall Middle School student Christian, 11. “I liked that we could go around the city and hear the stories of all these paintings.”

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