Students across the Conejo Valley Unified School District are enjoying a little more color on campus created by the sweat equity invested by some of their peers.
Most recently Conejo Valley and Westlake high schools were the beneficiaries of colorful collaborations between students and staff.
A new in-classroom mural at Westlake High School—depicting green hillsides, trees, sunshine and open hands holding fertile earth— is meant to evoke calmness, said Learning Essentials Academic Program teacher Kathy Tinker and art teacher Rissa Martinez. The mural came about after Tinker asked Martinez to join forces to paint a classroom wall.
Tinker “had been eager to improve her room aesthetically,” Martinez said. “Most of her classroom, as with any, is teacher funded, and we seldom get the opportunity to combine forces and cross-disciplines collaboratively, so I didn’t hesitate.”
The learning essentials program, called LEAP, is for students who have a disability that presents significant learning, adaptive and language needs that cannot be sufficiently supported through general education programs. At WHS, the program supports students in grades nine through 12.
Martinez selected two freshman art students, Laura Fuller and Xitllali Soriano, to design and bring the mural to life.
“I let the students take full rein on the design, only giving them the parameters of it needing to include the name LEAP and should be bright and calming,” Martinez said.
It took two semesters working twice a week during class time plus lunchtime and some after-school hours to complete. The mural was finished May 11.
The teens said this was their first large-scale art project.
“Each of us took on almost every role for the mural, being aided and guided by Ms. Martinez throughout the entire process,” Laura said. “Xitllali and I designed the whole thing, chose colors, taped off the area, smoothed texture, cleaned and primed the wall, drew the design, mixed many of the paints used, and painted.”
Project partner Xitllali said the artists included subtle hearts in the mural to spread the idea of kindness.
“The message that I wish to convey through this mural is that people should make kindness their first and most important priority,” Xitllali said.
In another part of Thousand Oaks, next to the district main office, students at Conejo Valley High School also recently finished a mural, this one nearly three years in the making.
COVID contributed to the delay, but it also had to do with coordinating schedules with West Coast street artist Kelly Graval, who goes by the name Risk and has been described as Thousand Oaks’ most infamous artist.
Graval has worked on projects for Aerosmith and Michael Jackson; produced artwork for the 2020 Super Bowl, Lyft, Monster Energy, Indian Motorcycles and Marvel Studios; and has been featured in Forbes magazine and The New York Times.
CVHS art teacher Lee Svoboda thought working with the artist would be a great opportunity for students and supported the message the mural shared—CVHS: Keep on Keepin’ on.
“I thought it was a great message for our students because a lot of kids end up at our school for various reasons. Whether it be they end up being credit deficient, somehow they fail their classes, something traumatic happens in their lives or they have to work extra to help support their families, traditional high school didn’t work for them,” Svoboda said.
“They end up at our school trying to catch up, trying to reach their goal, and it’s just a message to them to keep on doing what you’re doing, you’ll get through and don’t give up.”
Once work actually began, it took 70 students about three days to complete. They worked on the mural on a Thursday and Friday, and Risk finished it on a Saturday, Svoboda said.
“It’s so meaningful, the process to work with the students and also just to have this vibrant colors and imagery on regular school walls. It does a lot,” the art teacher said. “I think it’s a really awesome thing for the students to look at. It’s where they wait to get their lunch. Now you can see this bright, colorful wall from the freeway as you drive by Janss Road.”
Svoboda said he anticipates plenty of graduation pictures being taken in front of the colorful wall.
“I think it’s going to be a great photo opportunity for everyone and just an inspiring place, an inspiring image to look at,” he said.