Celebrating Diversity with a Mural
By Barbara A. Preston | December 1, 2021
Jennifer O’Connor recently completed a colorful mural in the lobby at Village Elementary School that illustrates the growing diversity in Montgomery Township.
Mostly, O’Connor emphasized, “I just wanted everyone to be able to connect with it, and to see themselves in it.” She has taught art in the Montgomery School district for 25 years. O’Connor grew up in Hillsborough, attended and graduated from East Carolina University in North Carolina with a degree in art education, and found herself back in New Jersey, teaching in the school district next door to her hometown.
She had originally painted a mural with trees in 2009. Her peer teachers suggested that she add students, but she says, “I wasn’t ready.” “I didn’t think I could do a good enough job painting the kids,” she told the Montgomery News during an interview in November.
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Then, Fourth Grade Teacher Max Rodriguez, who is member of the district’s diversity committee, asked her if she would consider adding kids. It was during COVID, the hallways were quiet, so, in the summer, she decided to give it a try.
She still wants to make a few final touches on the kids’ shirts, which mostly are variations of VES spirit shirts, but, with help over the summer from her daughter, she completed what many in the school district consider to be a masterpiece.
“The kids in the mural are modeled after real students,” she said. “I got old yearbooks and studied the students. I really wanted to be inclusive. I incorporated as many backgrounds as possible.”
O’Connor says she also used a children’s book as a reference. The book, All Are Welcome by Suzanne Kaufman had illustrations of children that matched the style she was looking to do. “I thought I could just do the entire thing in a month,” she says. “ But it took a lot of sketches and paper people.
First, the kids were very realistic. Then, I did a more cartoonish version. Finally, the kids become more realistic again.” She adds that she even left a few spaces in the mural where she could add more people, if needed. “I am happy people like it,” she added.
O’Connor lives in Pennington with her husband, Brian, son Mason, 14, and her daughter, Reegan, 12, who painted the rainbow socks on the mural.