Last Wednesday, students from eight Brooklyn schools unveiled the artwork on benches near the entrance of the Parade Ground.
The “Benchmarks Exhibition” was created by the Center for Educational Innovation (CEI), a Manhattan-based nonprofit whose mission is to guarantee a quality education for every student.
Thirty schools from across the five boroughs participated in the program, serving up to 750 public school students. They showcased all 30 bench murals last month at Washington Square Park.
Alexandra Leff, CEI’s director of Arts Education, said the Benchmarks program is designed to inspire youth to express themselves on various social issues through art.
“We felt that it was really important for young people to join the conversation and to be able to have a voice on these issues that affect them as well,” she said.
CEI teaching artists began working with the students in January to explore potential ideas. After students voted on the issue they felt most passionately about, they began researching facts and information about the issue.
The teaching artists then collaborated with the students to translate those messages into images and texts for the murals, Leff said.
The bench murals are now stationed at a public space in each of the five boroughs until mid-September, when they will be returned back to participating schools.
Leff said the program is geared toward students in grades five through nine, which is the age when kids are going through “a point of transition.”
“It also connects with social studies curriculum because they’re studying contemporary economic, social and political issues,” she said.
The murals at Prospect Park reflect a broad range of issues, from homelessness to bullying and racism.
Jada Clover, a sixth-grade student at PS 36 in East New York, said their mural was about homelessness and drug addiction.
“It’s a big issue we have in New York and we wanted to bring awareness to it,” she said.
Clover said through this project, she learned how to work together with classmates and communicate. She also learned that drugs can “mess up your life.”
“I hope one day, someone who’s feeling down can look at our bench and then get happy, and feel like they’re worth it,” she said.
Andersen Lin and Brian Cen from PS 771 in Brighton Beach made a “friendship train” mural inspired by the New York City subway system.
“It reminds people to be kind and friendly toward one another,” Lin said.
Chelsea Chambers, a seventh-grader at Meyer Levin School in East Flatbush, said her school’s mural represented the two sides of homelessness.
On one side was a town full of homeless people, who were struggling to get by. The other side was a town without homelessness.
Chambers said she learned from the project that “anyone can become homeless at any time.”
“It doesn’t matter who you are or what you have, you can become homeless,” she said. “We need to help each other out.”