Education by Design
A new art project led a metamorphosis at OTS’ Derech Avot High School for Boys from blank white walls to a palette of educational stories, facts and values. “School buildings should transmit learning everywhere,” says arts coordinator Ora Oppenheimer
“For years, I’ve been dreaming about high school hallways,” admits Ora Oppenheimer, coordinator of art studies at OTS’s Derech Avot High School for Boys in Efrat. “A school building should transmit learning everywhere; students should be surrounded by inspirational educational messages. I’ve often thought about how to use the arts to turn the plain, white corridors into an additional learning venue, rather than a mere passageway meant to bring our students from point A to point B.”
About a year ago, Oppenheimer – who is also the school’s coordinator of community development – developed a concept which she felt would enhance the school atmosphere and the student experience. She recruited the educational coordinator of each discipline taught in the school and, under the auspices of OTS’s Ann Belsky Moranis Arts Program, amassed an additional group of volunteers from the school staff to help her flesh out the idea and gather the materials.
The end result is astonishing; dynamic murals of eye-popping colors now adorn each hallway in the school, through which Oppenheimer’s original graphic designs illustrate highlights of the students’ curricula and core educational values.
“If you will it…”
A section on Zionism conveys historical events in the building of the State as well as the work of important personalities like Ben Gurion and Chana Szenesh, Theodore Herzl and Henrietta Szold. A second wing of walls is covered with biographical information about Israeli authors and poets such as Natan Alterman, Rahel, Chaim Nachman Bialik, Leah Goldberg and Shai Agnon.
A funky graphic mural displaying Jewish decisors (poskim) throughout the ages comprises the third wing, with information on characters ranging from the early-age Hillel and Shammai, all the way through the modern State of Israel’s Rav Avraham Isaac Kook.
“The fact that all of the information comes directly from the syllabi being studied by our students not only creates an atmosphere of education and values within our walls, but also reinforces what they are learning in the classroom – even if only on a passive level, as they go up and down the stairs or from room to room,” Oppenheimer explains. “All this, while also injecting our school with color, joy and inspiration.”
A fourth section of hallways is adorned by profiles of international thought leaders. Male and female, religious and secular, Jewish and Gentile, each personality is represented by a carefully-chosen quote that best represents their philosophy and the impact that they made in their field, whether it be Torah, philosophy, politics, sports or religion. “The idea in this particular section is to enable each boy to find inspiration in at least one direction,” Oppenheimer relates. “Where a statement on responsibility by Rav Kook may resonate with one child, another may find more meaning in a quote from Martin Buber on creativity; where one boy may be inspired by Winston Churchill’s ideas on persistence, his peer may be better motivated by the Dalai Lama’s thoughts on family,” she says.
Shortly after the graphics were installed, students played an “Escape Room” style game, designed to familiarize them with the new designs and what was printed on them. Each class received a specially prepared quiz and had to go through the halls to find the answer which, in turn, led them to a new question. The class that found all the answers first won a prize.
“We always enjoyed coming to school, but the murals make our school even more of a fun place,” says 11th grader Yonatan. “We’re all proud that we learn in an atmosphere of inspiration and investment, not just another grey building.”