By Sophia Ricco
Take a drive down New York Ave. past the Huntington LIRR station and feast your eyes upon the colorful and colossal mural that covers the walls underneath the rumbling trestles.
The mural is close to being completed, with only a few finishing touches left before a ribbon cutting ceremony set for Sept. 22 at 10 a.m. before the start of the Unity Day parade.
This new art installation comes as a gift to the Town of Huntington from Birchwood Intermediate School students who came together with their families and teachers to beautify the walls that are seen by many who are making their way into Huntington or to the train station. Those working on the project began the first weekend of August and continued to work every weekend after to complete the massive undertaking.
“What was so special about the process, was the outpouring from the community as we were doing it, that was something that will stay with me forever,” Annie Michaelian, former Assistant Principal of Birchwood and one of the coordinators, said. “People would come by and beep and yell out, ‘Thank you! It looks awesome!’”
This project came as a once in a lifetime opportunity for the students grades 3-5 at Birchwood to leave their mark on the community of Huntington, while also learning the gift of service. Students volunteered for shifts on the weekends, where they would spend hours working together to paint the many elements the mural contains.
“When we come out of the classroom walls and do something like this, it teaches them a different kind of lesson,” Michaelian said. “It teaches them about giving back and having love for their community.”
The idea for the project came from fifth-grade teacher, Barbara Wright, who had done a similar service with her Brownie Troop in Bayport, however not nearly at the same scale. She brought this idea to the SBM team at Birchwood, that is made up of teachers, students, administrators, and parents who work to bring the school and community together, and was immediately supported. This is when her and Michaelian came together to coordinate necessary planning, approvals, and supplies.
The team knew that an art project this massive would require a large amount of supplies and volunteers, but they lucked out with both. When the group contacted Aboff’s in Huntington about donating paint and supplies for the mural, the store was more than willing to help them. The group also needed painters to bring the project to life, so Michaelian set up an online volunteer form on the Birchwood school website where students, families, and staff could sign up. They were delighted to see the outpouring of people signing up from the school. With how many volunteers they had, Michaelian made specific shifts based on grade level that allowed students to work with their classmates.
“That way it was rotating and everyone got a chance to be involved,” Michaelian said. “I’ve never done this before, but it seemed so seamless, it was great.”
One stipulation to a child volunteering was that a parent was required to be with their child during the entire shift, so the coordinators were not responsible for over 20 children at once. But this allowed parents to have a more active role in their child’s project.
“It was so beautiful to see a child and their parent working together on such a beautiful project,” Michaelian said.
The mural’s bright and happy design comes from Huntington itself. When the SBM Team asked students what makes Huntington special, these are the images they created.
“Everything’s that’s on the walls is a child’s drawing from our school,” Michaelian said. “We guided them in terms of telling them, these are the elements of Huntington if they hadn’t known, then they did research on their own. They would visualize it then draw it in their own style.”
The student’s illustrations were then photoshopped by one of Wright’s friends to be scaled to the size of the wall so the group had approximate measurements. While working on the mural, many students would be eager to come back weekend after weekend to help paint.
“It was amazing to see that it was a newfound love for some kids, some that didn’t even realize they were artistic,” Michaelian said. “They didn’t realize they enjoyed this but walked away feeling like, ‘Wow, I want to do this for another project.’”
Michaelian hopes this project can be a catalyst for an increase in beautification projects from the school and within the community. There is all around good feelings from this project, from the community appreciating the wonderful creation to the students feeling the good can come from service.
“We know that the kids who were involved so much with it, when they pass by this year or ten years from now, when they see it they will be so proud of it,” Michaelian said.