Mural tries to make students feel welcome
Posted: Monday, October 14, 2013 10:30 pm
At Longfellow Elementary School, a bridge stretches from Laos and Thailand to Eau Claire.
Painted in a corner of the school’s library, a new mural depicts Hmong students at play in the Southeast Asian countries, with a bridge that extends across a river to Eau Claire. The mural was unveiled by school officials Monday.
School staff said the new mural is part of an effort to make Hmong students feel welcome at Longfellow. Similar efforts are occurring at other district schools, staff said.
"It’s really important students see themselves in school," said Joel Raney, a curriculum instructional coach for the district.
Raney said students are sensitive to whether they feel like they belong at school.
When they feel like they belong, they’re much more likely to be engaged; when they don’t, their participation and grades are more likely to fall off, he said.
Ellen Higley, a social worker at Longfellow, said the district is working to weave more Hmong history into the elementary curriculum.
For Hmong students, efforts like the mural help them understand their cultural heritage, Higley said. For other students, it helps explain how the Hmong came to be a part of the Eau Claire community, she said.
Three years ago, Higley wrote a grant that has helped fund the curriculum improvements, as well as the new mural.
She said the mural is symbolic of the school and the district’s efforts to increase cultural awareness among students and faculty.
Research shows cultural awareness helps both minority and white students academically, Higley said.
Blia Schwahn, an outreach coordinator for Eau Claire schools, said the mural — which is accompanied by a small bamboo hut and two traditional Hmong dresses — is an important visual cue for students.
"We always thought it would be kind of neat for our kids to have something to represent diversity," Schwahn said.
Eau Claire school board member Chue Xiong said the effort involved many people, which was nice to see.
The mural was painted by Peng Sue Lor, a UW-Stout graduate student.
Lor was asked by Schwahn to help come up with an idea for the mural and later decided to volunteer for the job.
School staff noted the mural has a fun, light-hearted feel. Lor said that was part of his goal.
"I kept it colorful, I kept it light," he said.
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