Picture the average American high school: brown brick exterior with white cinderblock walls inside, blue metal lockers, and speckled vinyl flooring.
Nothing new but missing a splash of color or mark of inspiration.
Fortunately, Tyler Sims, an art teacher at Urbana High School, wanted to change that, and with the help of the Champaign-Urbana Schools Foundation, Sims and his students have a vision for an incredibly special mural to be completed in the coming years.
“I think the idea of any pops of color in the sad white spaces of the hallways is very welcomed,” said Sims. “There was a general excitement about it, and with art club, we’ve been slowly getting the big mural drawn.”
Sims received a compact grant from CUSF for $250, which was used to buy high quality acrylic paints which currently sit in Sims’ garage just waiting for the right time to be cracked open.
The design of the mural itself was completely left up to the students, and altogether the composition will include a colorful backdrop with the school’s ‘It’s the U Baybe’ hand sign displayed prominently.
“It’s a really nice message, and our principal came up with a new twist on the original sign and meaning,” he said. “One hand alone also means ‘I love you’ in sign language, and that’s a super important image for us.”
Still up in the air is how to paint the symbol, with the two most popular options including either filling it with handprints of all the students, or potentially painting it to resemble a realistic hand.
In the end, the goal for Sims is less about the final product and more about how it will impact and inspire students and staff throughout the building.
According to him, one of the toughest parts about being a teacher, especially during the pandemic, has been the rollercoaster of uncertainty and anxiety, coupled with the feelings of resilience and growth.
“Through it all, I feel I’ve gotten closer with my students, and people are more willing to be vulnerable and communicate their feelings,” Sims said. “A lot of trust has been built, and while the transitions have been hard, it seems people are more open.”
This is the first grant Sims has received through CUSF, as he was introduced to the organization earlier this year by colleagues, but he plans to apply for many more in the future.
“The organization is full of some of the most helpful people I’ve ever worked with,” he said. “For us at the schools, CUSF is a real pillar of the community.”