Strawberry Park Elementary reveals student-made mural |

Strawberry Park Elementary reveals student-made mural

Sarah Juschka, holding scissors, joins Strawberry Park Elementary School art teacher Erin Kreis and students at the ribbon cutting for the collaborative mural.
John F. Russell

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — In spring’s new growth, an entire aspen forest has bloomed in front of Strawberry Park Elementary School. Every student in the school contributed to painting this 32-foot mural, and on Monday, April 15, the school held a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the piece.

The seeds of the project were planted last year, when Strawberry Park Elementary School art teacher Erin Kreis and parent and local artist Sarah Juschka began talking about a collaboration.

“I thought, ‘How great would it be for the fifth graders to have a legacy?’” said Juschka, a self-taught artist whose work hangs in Stel gallery and who recently painted a collection called “For the love of trees: Aspen collection” that will be on display at the Depot Art Center in July.

In September, Kreis and Juschka — as a volunteer — began integrating the mural project into Strawberry Park art classes: talking about how landscapes work, taking photographs of local scenery and discussing what the group ultimately wanted to emulate in the painting. Then it was time for the students to practice painting and, finally, to begin painting the mural itself.

The mural is composed of four 4-foot by 8-foot panels.

“It took up the entire length of the art room,” Juschka said.

As the school’s students rotated into their art classes, everyone got to contribute to the painting. Some got to paint the purple mountains in the background; some grew the grass or the sky; some used a circular sponge brush to make leaves. The foreground subjects — the aspen trees — were reserved for the fifth-graders to paint.

“A big part of this project was collaboration,” Kreis said.

Students at Strawberry Park Elementary School worked throughout the autumn to create a 32-foot mural of an aspen forest with parent volunteer Sarah Juschka and art teacher Erin Kreis.
John F. Russell

The two-month painting project hit many of Kreis’ curriculum standards, and she felt teaching in the form of one sustained, evolving project was an ideal tool.

“The art having meaning and being personal to the students is a standard,” she said. “We tied all these lessons into one giant piece, which I think is more meaningful for them.”

So meaningful that many students took extra time to paint their piece of the mural during their recess, lunchtime, after school and even once during a painting and pizza party.

“I learned how to paint better,” said Sarah’s youngest daughter, second-grader and grass-painter Grace Juschka.

“I learned about shading and how shade isn’t all gray; you can use purple,” said fifth-grader Maiya Wagner. “And I learned shading looks really cool.”

In addition to technical art lessons, the student artists also learned widely applicable life lessons through the mural project.

“The students learned from their mistakes,” Kreis said. “If the paint was wet and they made a mistake, they could blend more and rework that area. If it was dry, they could paint over it. It doesn’t have to be perfect; they can always come back, try again and fix mistakes if they need to.”

“Sometimes, it’s pretty hard to do some things,” fifth-grader Jonathan Davila said of painting, “but if you keep going, you get it done.”

The final product is a slightly whimsical, cool-colored panoramic mural, with painted light from the painted sky that seems to touch the trees in a way that makes sense.

“We were originally planning on putting the mural in the back of the school by the playground — kind of by the dumpster, actually,” Juschka said. “But as we were painting it, Tracy Stoddard (Strawberry Park Elementary School principal) saw it and said, ‘Oh no, no, no, this is way too beautiful. I want this on the front of the school.’”

Juschka noted that she was blown away by the students’ professionalism and care for their work.

“They were taking pride in the fact that this is for the front of their school,” she said.

The aspen forest mural will welcome students, teachers and visitors into the school for years to come and is featured on this year’s Strawberry Park Elementary School yearbook cover.

For fifth-grader Cassie Sabin, the best part of the mural is happening now.

“Seeing it hanged up and everyone getting to see it and admire it is my favorite part,” she said.

“When I look at the mural, I feel happy,” Grace Juschka said.

Julia Ben-Asher is a contributing writer for Steamboat Pilot & Today.

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