Hatfield schools spotlight art and the outdoors in the coming year

  • Graffiti artist Tim Clorius and Andrew Kaufman helped Julie Muellejans's public art class with a Falcons mural outside of Smith Academy in Hatfield. Gazette Staff/Andrew Whitaker

  • A mural of Sophia Smith painted by Jason Archambault in 2016 at Smith Academy in Hatfield. Gazette Staff/Andrew Whitaker—Andrew J. Whitaker

  • Julie Muellejans's public art class painted a mural representing the spirit of Hatfield as a tribute to retired fire chief William Belden at Smith Academy in Hatfield. Gazette Staff/Andrew Whitaker

  • A sports mural was the first mural created in Julie Muellejans's public art class in 2014. Gazette Staff/Andrew Whitaker—Andrew J. Whitaker

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    A mural representing "The Valley" is painted along a wall in Smith Academy Principal Andrew Berrios's office in Hatfield. Gazette Staff/Andrew Whitaker

  • A mural dedicated to the Smith Academy kitchen staff painted and directed by Tia-Lynn Plantier. Gazette Staff/Andrew Whitaker—Andrew J. Whitaker

  • Smith Academy art teacher Julie Muellejans, left, and Principal Andrew Berrios, right, stand in front of a mural in the school's cafeteria Wednesday, August 10, in Hatfield. Gazette Staff/Andrew Whitaker—Andrew J. Whitaker

  • Mosaic Planters are seen outside of Smith Academy school in Hatfield. Gazette Staff/Andrew Whitaker—Andrew J. Whitaker

  • Mosaic Planters are seen outside of Smith Academy school in Hatfield. Gazette Staff/Andrew Whitaker—Andrew J. Whitaker

Published: 8/16/2016 7:44:43 PM

HATFIELD – For nearly a decade, old tobacco barns throughout town have served as the canvas for student artwork. But this year, Smith Academy students will be taking their talents to the bare walls at school.

Large-scale murals are a signature of Smith’s vision and collaboration within the school, highlighting art teacher Julie Muellejans’ leadership. Vibrant agricultural scenes are depicted on structures at the Hatfield Farm Museum, the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts and at Luther Belden Farm.

But last year students really embraced what principal Andrew Berrios hopes will be a longstanding tradition – students leaving their artistic mark on the school itself.

A few years ago, Berrios found himself asking, “why are we painting all over the place and not here in the building?” 

The cafeteria interior now stands as a clear indicator of what that impact could be. On one side, the walls are plain white. On the other, colors swirl and form a 25-feet wide by 15-feet high mural embedded with circular snapshots of life in Hatfield – the original Smith Academy school bell, town first responders, four famed bears that roamed around Hatfield last year, and the iconic former Center School building currently up for reuse proposals. The mural was completed last year and dedicated to longtime fire chief William Belden, who recently retired after 47 years with the Hatfield Fire Department. 

There are other projects, too, that have given new life to old spaces. Historical figure Sophia Smith, once a Hatfield resident who endowed Smith Academy, stands tall in the hallway. Outside, a sports equipment storage container has been transformed into a highly-detailed recreation of the school’s mascot, a falcon. A tiny feather bearing the name of Emily Dushane, a former Smith Academy freshman who died in May, serves as a memorial to her life. That project was funded in part by a grant from the Hatfield Cultural Council and the Hatfield Education Foundation.

Berrios said each project has come with a comprehensive research and implementation plan.

“Schools place big emphasis on test scores and sometimes miss the smaller things that are just as important,” he said. “...Like the arts and creativity. Fostering the freedom to express yourself and leave your mark on the place where you got the start of your education.”

He is blown away by the level of professional artwork his students produce and will continue to produce, next year.

“Any time you give these students something, they always go ten feet above and beyond,” he said.

Hatfield Elementary

While Smith students are transforming their indoor learning spaces, younger students at Hatfield Elementary School can expect to bring their classroom outside.

This year an outdoor learning initiative will be fully implemented for children in the school’s early childhood program, which serves preschool and kindergarten. Principal Jennifer Chapin said the program hopes to extend to first grade, as well.

Two outdoor spaces in back of the school property, one wooded and another alongside a trickling brook, have been cleared for the initiative.

Rain or shine, the children will spend two mornings a week in what Chapin is calling “the forest classroom.” They will use nature to learn curriculum standards, such as basic math using found items, introductory science concepts and art using organic materials.

“It gets kids moving, outside, in the fresh air” Chapin said of the initiative. Sitting at desks all day can be quite difficult for young children, she continued.

Chapin said expectations for early learners are so much higher than in years past, so programs like this one allow them a chance to “expend some of that energy,” without sacrificing the educational aspect.

Hatfield’s projective student enrollment from pre-K through Grade 12 is 440, which is similar to years prior. The overall Hatfield school budget is $5,222,286.67.

Superintendent John Robert said the town made no significant additions or reductions to the budget, but minor cuts eliminated one and one-half positions, an administrative assistant in the special education department and a half-time paraprofessional in the elementary school. The only new addition this year is a drama teacher at Smith Academy.

Sarah Crosby can be reached at scrosby@gazettenet.com.


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