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When Cunningham Park Elementary School Principal Katherine Le asked if she would paint a mural for the school, Ellen Singletary responded as any job interviewee would: she said yes.

Singletary landed the job, becoming the art teacher for the Vienna school of roughly 400 students, but thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, it took more than two years for that proposed mural to materialize.

With about 70 volunteer hours and $1,200 worth of paint and other supplies, Singletary transformed the long, winding sidewalk that connects the school’s main building to its playground into a rainbow-hued journey through rain clouds, mermaids, dragons and most daunting of all, a replication of the mini-roundabout at Park and Locust streets.

“It looks very good. It’s amazing,” kindergarten student Connor Pollak said on Wednesday (March 30), when students, staff and parents gathered after school to celebrate the project with an “Art Walk.”

The idea for the sidewalk mural preceded Singletary’s hiring at Cunningham Park, originating in a first-grade classroom as part of a project-based learning exercise that all grades were required to develop in 2018.

Inspired by the sidewalk’s resemblance to the layout for the board game “Candy Land,” the students drew designs that could be painted on different squares or sections of the pavement. Some proposals were straightforward, such as tic-tac-toe or hopscotch, while others went a little more wild.

Estefany, who, like her classmates, is now in fourth grade, recalls that she “wanted all of it to be about candy.”

Singletary was gearing up to put the students’ designs together when COVID-19 arrived, and Fairfax County Public Schools shuttered all buildings in March 2020, putting the project on hold.

Erica Lee, president of Cunningham Park’s Parent Teacher Association, suggested reviving the mural this past August as students prepared to return to classrooms after more than a year of virtual learning.

At first, Singletary wasn’t so sure it was the right time. She knew the project would be time-consuming, and since this was her first-ever attempt at a sidewalk mural, she worried it wouldn’t last through the weather and getting trampled by dozens of feet daily.

Le encouraged her to dive in anyway, noting that the mural could be repainted if it wears down.

“It was really nice to have the freedom and this environment to work within where I could experiment,” Singletary said. “…That’s the same thing I hope to do for my students. When you’re creating art, if you’re not making mistakes and failing here or there, then you’re not really going through the artistic process.” Read More


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