Student Center remodels, incorporating student art

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The winning mural design for the Student Center, “A Community Forever,” by Sara Deshpande.

As some students opt to return to in-person school at DHS, they will encounter a renovated, remodeled Student Center as compared to the one they left behind almost a year ago. The design of the center is inspired by students, whose vision was unleashed within focus groups and surveys. They wanted the center “to look like no other space in the building, they didn’t want to feel like they were in school,” Diane Andree, the Student Success Coordinator, said as she squealed with excitement talking about their achievement in doing that. 

Andree describes the refurbishment of the center’s two large rooms as “one good thing that came from quarantine.” C228, which was originally a single German room, was divided into two group meeting rooms, three individual counseling rooms and a storage closet. C227, the other room, was split into two by a dividing wall, the closets were enlarged and a coffee bar was erected. New flooring went into both rooms over February break, the week of February 15. 

Upon entering the lobby, Andree reveals that students will be met by a much more calming environment. The nine colors that previously filled the lobby have been reduced to about three. 

On the left is a large wall. Andree thought student art would be a perfect way to enliven the wall. Increasing student art in the school, and the Student Center specifically, was a shared desire among students. While there are some elements that are unremovable, such as the fire alarm and extinguisher, Andree received approval from the Chief Operations Officer and Principal Lofstrand for a mural on the wall. After disseminating a call to students for design submissions, she received nine of them. 

“We want this to pop and make you smile, we want you to be like ‘ah this is my school.’ We want to help build pride. Secretly, I’m hoping that we’ll start putting more art around, like we’ll put the crest somewhere. You should see it somewhere other than graduation,” Andree said. “So, I have a secret plan. We wanted something, ideally that represented the Decatur community but something that would bring joy and serenity and make it a place you wanted to be.”

A committee composed of teachers, students, and community members reviewed the submissions to ensure they wouldn’t be triggering in any way.

The winning mural design for the Student Center, “A Community Forever,” by Sara Deshpande.

“Of course, art is in the beholder and all that, but there are certain elements, colors, and things that could be triggering, so we’re just making sure as a safety net that none of that happens,” Andree said.

After Andree sent out designs for voting among students and the voting period ended, there was a tie between two designs. The results of a tiebreaker declared that freshman Sara Deshpande’s design “A Community Forever” won the mural spot. Deshpande will work primarily alone, but may ask for painting assistance along the way, which Andree is currently coordinating with Art teacher Catherine Thibadeau. 

Ceiling tiles will also introduce more student art. This student led idea was inspired by some DHS teachers who have brightened their classrooms by painting tiles. 

Seniors Elizabeth Mone and Nora Colussey-Estes are addressing the lack of artwork in DHS with their CAS project.

“We wanted to include more student art in the Student Center because of its benefits to mental health and we wanted to show off the artwork of the many students at Decatur High School since there are so many wonderful artists here,” Mone said in a video distributed by Andree. “In addition, art always brightens up a place, adds a pop of color, and showcases beauty, so we wanted to add more of that in the school.”

Mone and Colussey-Estes collaborated with the Student Center to acquire a flat screen TV. Then, they reached out to the student population with requests to submit art to feature in a slideshow via a google form. By creating a folder with the artwork, Mone and Colussey-Estes hope teachers will flip through it on their interactive board when it’s appropriate. 

Andree also plans to employ a smaller flat screen TV in the Career Academy lobby as an interactive board. In the four years Andree has worked at DHS, she has never seen the screen appear as anything other than blank. 

Andree is gracious towards two architects who looked at the Student Center’s space and believed it could be used more efficiently. Two thin closets in room C227 were transformed into ten-foot spacious closets. One was designed and will be used by the Fashion and Marketing Club as a clothing closet or “green closet,” as they call it. The other closet will be a collaboration room for the several interns, social workers and community members that help in the center. 

As for the main space in room C227, one side will be called the Bluebird Cafe and the other Joe’s Zen Den. The former will be a coffee bar, which Andree sadly says won’t be able to serve coffee in the near future because of COVID-19 concerns. The latter is to honor Joe Bodine, a graduate of DHS Class of 2015, who lost his battle with addiction in 2016 by passing away from an overdose. His mother’s work was much of the reason the Student Center was built in the first place. 

“It is very unique; we’re one of only six centers in the entire state of Georgia and probably less than two dozen in the nation. So, we’re very grateful that we have this space,” Andree said.

When the Bluebird Cafe opens, so will a program for students with disabilities to learn work based skills, serving as “an opportunity for our general-ed and our special-ed students to work together on a project,” Andree said. These students can possibly transition to working in local coffee houses after graduation. 

The C228 room will be lined with living walls, with herbs and other plants growing inside. Not only are botanical properties beneficial for mental health, Andree said, but they can be of use to the DHS Culinary Arts department. The students will also have a chalkboard at their disposal in the room for writing, drawing or  “working on problems,” Andree said. Similarly, the movable wall in C227 is a whiteboard. Andree envisions that the Student Center will help clubs prosper by providing space for them to use after school.

 

Have any questions? Please contact the writer, Alexis Siegler, at 94alexsieg@csdecatur.net