Jemtegaard student creates mural to boost school spirit

Seventh-grader Aubrey Gale picked as winner of competition

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Jemtegaard Middle School students Rylee Drake (left) and Aubrey Gale (center) and art educator Teacher Dani paint a mural at the school in March 2024. (Contributed photos courtesy Washougal School District)

In recent years, Jemtegaard Middle School (JMS) administrators and teachers have noticed something about their school building, which opened in 2017.

“We haven’t had a lot of color on the walls,” JMS principal David Cooke said. “It looks very bland, like hospital wings. We felt like it needed some color and decided (to do something about it for) school spirit.”

Cooke didn’t have to go very far to find the colors and spirit he was looking for.

JMS students Aubrey Gale, Addison Curtis and Rylee Drake painted a mural on one of the school’s walls earlier this year to represent school pride and boost student morale.

“We want to give kids a voice, and art is a great way of expressing voice,” Cooke said. “We had a (similar) project when we first got here, and it was wonderful. We found that when we had art on the walls, kids respected it, really enjoyed it, and it became part of their community. We just felt like we wanted to get there (again) and made the initiative this year to get after it. We’re hoping to do quite a few, but our goal this year was, ‘Let’s just get one. Let’s get it started.’”

The mural, now on display near the school’s gymnasium, features an original design created by Aubrey, a seventh-grade student.

“I appreciate that (Aubrey and her friends) seemed to be having fun, but they were very dedicated to it, and this meant something to them,” Cooke said. “We talked about how when stuff like this goes up, it’s like a legacy. And for me personally, I’m just thrilled. The girls really understood what we were looking for, they captured what we wanted, and it’s fabulous. I’m really proud of them.”

Cooke asked JMS art teacher Teacher Dani at the beginning of the 2023-24 school year to form a committee, featuring representatives from each grade level, to create a mural at the school.

The chosen students worked with Cooke and assistant principal Tiffany McCormick to hold a schoolwide mural design contest, seeking designs to represent ‘Husky Pride,’ the school’s motto.

“I think it sends a message to other schools that we do care about our school, that they’re coming into ‘our house,’ or ‘our gym’ or whatever,” Cooke said. “We do care about this, and it’s all different sports. ‘Husky Pride’ goes to all the different sports. We included many sports because that helps represent all the kids that like to do different things – diversity is important.”

The committee received about 10 entries and selected Aubrey’s design, which features the school’s husky-head logo; the words ‘JMS’ and ‘Go Huskies’; and icons representing the school’s six sports (volleyball, football, wrestling, basketball, cross country, and track and field).

“The entries ranged from ‘Venom vs. Spider-Man’ to tiny puppies,” Dani said. “Aubrey’s was really the only one that had a ‘pride’ saying and represented all of the different sports.”

“I just wanted to include ‘Husky pride,’ so I put the husky and sports all around it, with ‘Go Huskies’ on the bottom, because it shows everything we do here,” Aubrey added.

Aubrey, Addison, and Riley worked “every day after school” for about one month on the mural, which was completed in April, according to Dani.

“The most frustrating thing was probably getting all the shapes right because we kept smearing it,” Aubrey said. “The best part was doing it with my friends. It was pretty fun. It takes time, but it’s fun if you have your friends there – and free food that (Dani) provided. I am happy with it, even though I still see mistakes.”

They received some much-appreciated financial assistance from the Washougal Arts and Culture Alliance (WACA), which provided funding for materials and paint.

“(Washougal School Board member and WACA director) Jim Cooper was at the board meeting where we presented our idea to the district office, and he said, ‘This is something that I believe WACA could get involved with,’” Cooke said. “That’s how WACA got involved, which was really helpful because funding is tight right now, so anytime we can have an outside group come in (is crucial). It was so great. They were like, ‘Yeah, we want to be a part of this.’ Hopefully they’ll continue to be partners with us from this point on.”

Dani said that Aubrey and her friends showed personal growth throughout the process.

“The thing that I appreciated the most was the girls were learning to take compliments, because it was really hard for them in the beginning because when you first start, you’re just getting it on there, and then you go through and you touch it up, so we see all the mistakes where the other people don’t see all our mistakes,” she said.

“And so the teachers and anybody that walked by would give them compliments, and I’d have to say, ‘Say “thank you”’ because they were so embarrassed. But by the time they were done, they were like, ‘Oh, yeah, we did do a good job.’ That’s what was most rewarding for me, is to look at it finally at the end and be like, ‘Yeah, this is good. We can stop now. I think we got.’”

Cooke said that student-driven projects like Aubrey’s mural improve school culture and climate by fostering a sense of pride and ownership for students in their school.

“I appreciate that no one’s touched it, no one’s vandalized it, and everyone understands it’s an important part of a school, so no one’s messing with it, which is good because sometimes you’ll see scrapes on walls from bags, or sometimes vandalism,” he said. “It’s become a sacred area, and I think that’s really important. That’s why I think it helps school pride. The more of those we can get up, I think it sends a message.”

Cooke and Dani are already planning additional murals, with the next one most likely to be painted in the commons area.

“We weren’t sure what we were going to do the first time, and now we know,” Cooke said. “To me, Aubrey and the girls have set a benchmark. (Future murals have) to be just as good and, hopefully better. We want to grow with each one.”