Shannon Thiesen using a SkyDrive to help paint the upper portion of the mural. (Patrick Penner photo)

Abbotsford school soon to be home of city’s largest mural

Project of one teacher helped by students, parents, teachers and community

When Abbotsford teacher Shannon Thiesen found out that the mural painted on the side of her school was being torn down, she drew up plans to replace it with the largest mural in the city.

Instead of relaxing during her two months off this summer, Thiesen – a teacher and visual arts specialist at the North Poplar campus of Abbotsford School of Integrated Arts – has been recruiting students, parents, teachers and the general community to help her paint the project.

“We were losing our mural, losing our colour, looking like a jail,” Thiesen said. “I just said, you know, we have to bring our heart back.”

The new geometric mural is over 4000 square feet, covers three walls of the school, and will depict Mt. Baker towering over the agricultural landscapes of the Fraser Valley.

The previous mural had to be torn down over winter break after the school discovered the wood behind the paint was rotting from mould. It was replaced with corrugated metal siding, which looked like “another faceless wall,” Thiesen said.

Wenonah Justin, the Indigenous support worker for the school, said the mural serves as a example of what the “choice school” has to offer.

“People can see it and the community can see it. [It’s] shedding light on the school in a positive way,” she said. “It’s really exciting.”

Integrated arts education combines traditional subjects with the creative arts. The teachers will be incorporating the patterns of the mural into mathematics lessons in fall.

“By choosing geometry, we can actually turn around and use this lesson in September,” Thiesen said. “Every one of the 450 students at North Poplar will be given their own triangle space to paint.”

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Choice schools receive the same funding as any other public school in the province so finding the money for the project was challenging. Thiesen said she fundraised a lot, and money was raised through the school’s annual art show, which sells student creations to help fund the art-supply budget.

Thiesen said school principal AnnaLisa Osterby-Batryn has been supportive throughout the process.

“I was worried. It’s an expensive project,” she said. “My principal said, ‘If you’re going to do it, go for it.’ So then I tripled the size.”

Over 50 people have shown up to help Thiesen paint. She said getting the community involved through a social media campaign has been essential.

“I knew there’s no way that I’d be able to accomplish this in a month, and I really only have a month because I have to go and set my classroom up and get back to school soon.”

Peter Steineckert, who has been participating in the project with his two kids, said Thiesen’s ambition with the mural is remarkable.

“It just shows the type of person she is,” he said. “To give up your summer, I mean, she’s entitled to two months off. She could be doing a million other things.”

Steineckert’s daughter, Anna, who just graduated from the school, said watching the progress as her family drove by inspired her to come paint.

“One day you come here and then the next day when you come back it looks almost completely different because there’s so much more done to it,” she said.

Steineckert said his family was happy to answer Thiesen’s call for help.

“Anything to get dirt under your fingernails or paint on your shirt I think is what we all need once in awhile,” he said. “When we drive by in years, we can go, ‘I remember that summer.’ ”

The project is on track for completion by the second week of August.

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