image-pesc mural
Working with artist Ellen Silva, students at Pescadero Elementary School created a new mural to help beautify their campus. Photo courtesy Ellen Silva

When children first come to Pescadero Elementary School, they see fourth-grade alumni’s artwork of animals and people in a variety of environments coloring the walls of the school. They watch each year as the fourth-graders create their unique mural until they’re promoted and  it’s finally their turn. 

This year, teacher Jennie Dahl’s class created one of the largest murals yet — an 18-foot-wide and almost 9-foot-tall painting, titled “Wild Pescadero,” that stretches across the outside of the school’s bathrooms weaving around signs and covering doors. 

“The enthusiasm is very high because they’ve been watching since they were in kindergarten and can’t wait until they’re in fourth grade to do this,” said local artist and graphic designer Ellen Silva who has led the workshops for 12 years at the school.

In addition to supporting local artists, Principal Phil Hophan said students benefit in many ways from the process. One of the most important ways, he said, is that it instills social and emotional wellness in the students. 

“It just gives them that opportunity to be well and think positively and participate in something positive,” he said. 

Silva has helped students create murals at other Coastside schools, including El Granada and Pilarcitos. She learned the technique at Precita Eyes Muralist, an art center in San Francisco. 

It starts with a theme — in this case “Wild Pescadero” — and this year each student drew an animal. Then they take their drawings to the whiteboard and create a layout for the mural. 

Silva then creates a drawing to scale of the full piece using the student’s drawings. Then the students apply the color to the drawing. It takes two in-class design sessions and four painting sessions. 

“It’s a learning process,” Silva said. “... This is painting on bumpy stucco. Sometimes the sun is very bright. They paint standing up or kneeling down. It’s an entirely different process than sitting at a desk coloring.” 

The costs are largely borne by outside sources, Hophan said. Funding comes from the Pescadero Education Foundation, South Coast Artists’ Alliance and Philanthropic Ventures Foundation. Silva said parent Shannon Webb also makes the project possible. 

“Because they come back year after year with brothers or sisters and because the school is a great part of the community, they’re able to see their art there long after they finish fifth grade and have gone on to middle school,” Silva said. “I think they’re proud of it. They feel remembered.” 

Hophan said there have been additional beautification projects, and the front of the school will receive a new mural by a local artist over Thanksgiving break. It will be inspired by the students’ ideas of what Pescadero means to them with a garden scene on the office door. 

“For them to be a part of something that (is) permanent on the school gives them that pride in their school,” he said. “It gives them things to talk about. It binds the students to the idea of a community school.”

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