Script for Video-GRENADA MIDDLE SCHOOL'S WALLS THAT TEACHANGELA COOLEY (Assistant Principal, Grenada Middle School): When you walk into the school you'll notice, further along, after the entry, that the colors are vibrant. Then you begin to look at the symbols and the writings that are on the wall. That alone draws you in. I think that that is a brilliant way of helping students understand the diverse culture in which society, not just this school, but society originated. It gives them almost like a course of study as they walk down the hallway about ancient civilizations and how… their place of origination…to where they are today.
MICHAEL JACKSON (Social studies teacher, Grenada Middle School): As you see on the 6th grade hall, this is actually the hall, the Egyptian hall. So when the kids come in, the first thing I ask them is, "What do you know about Egypt?" Well, of course, some of them may talk about mummies and things like that, but it's not a whole lot of information I give them. And then when I remind them, "Well, it's the 6th grade, you may not realize it, but as you walked through the 6th grade hall, you actually walked through a tour of Egypt." Lots of students learn with notes. Other students have to see it. And for those students that have to see it, it's a really, really great learning tool. It's really good with the new QR readers that you have on there. You can click on your phone. It goes to YouTube. It works real, real well with it.
ROBIN WHITFIELD (Walls That Teach artist): I got involved with this project when I was a senior at Delta State University. I was about to graduate as a painting major, and I came over to the school system and learned that the school was wanting to turn their middle school into a time machine. They wanted to be able to have the environment itself teach the student body as they walked around, as they just talked with each other. Just the kind of learning where you soak it in. We started off by making a timeline of the history of human civilization, where that's what you saw when you walked into the school as a young student. We had a countdown – I even got to design the floor. So we had a countdown on the floor…and a time machine, and this exhaust of human civilization. We called it Walls That Teach, and I guess that's literally what it became. As I was designing, or thinking about the design for these walls that would hopefully be seen by 6th, 7th, and 8th graders for a long time, cause I didn't want it to be about facts. I wanted it to be about the way it felt. And I've always been fascinated with how a group of humans is affected by the particular land they're living on. You can't help but…because that's the resources you have available to you, and the resources you have end up influencing the culture you become. You know, whatever it is you have, you have to work with what you've got in front of you in the land. And so I did take that kind of spin on each one of the halls, Egypt being the first one I did. I decided to make the left side like the wild part of Egypt. And then on the right-hand side of the wall, it was about the culture itself and how they interacted with the land, and I focused on things like how they dressed and how they wore their make-up, and how they farmed the land. And they documented it so beautifully in their own drawings. And so on and so forth, I went through these cultures. China was next. The left side of the hall, I took all the brush paintings through about a thousand years worth of brush paintings, and just picked out the things that I thought were going to tell the story of the seasons. They associate everything with an element. I still use the idea of, like, the elements of metal, and wood and fire. They were extremely technological, you know, so I pulled in all this technology. And really also tried to give credit to that culture for the influencing the rest of us. The final culture in this project was Rome. The Western world was always fascinated with perspective, or being able to try to magically recreate how the world really looks, and so that hall is a little bit different in that I used the entire wall, and I tried to make more lifelike-seeming images of the architecture, where it looks like you might could walk into…down a street, or walk up to a food counter. So I did that just to really nod or give homage to the fact that that was what that particular culture was fascinated with in art. When I started this project, this was an empty courtyard, nothing but grass that had to be mowed. And I just saw the potential for something hands-on. And like I was saying, I'm always trying to find a way to connect the natural world with the culture that I'm talking about. So rather than painting about nature, since I was in Mississippi, and this was a Mississippi culture, I wanted to actually have a living environment. We partnered with the Choctaw nation over in Philadelphia, and we went and studied the architecture. They used what they had always traditionally done from probably the mid-1800s up to build this cabin. So they came over, and we had a group of students. We kind of had a little mini workshop a few times. Often teachers would allow students to come out and work with me to complete a section, particularly on the walls themselves. The students that helped me do that are now in their thirties. I see them around town, and it is true they have never forgotten that experience. So that was my task as an artist, to try to make something beautiful but also educational. And I loved it. I loved research, and I just love that challenge of altering this building. I'd never done anything like it. I'll probably never do anything like it again.
To hear the Walls That Teach audio tour, download a QR reader from your preferred cell phone app provider. Using your phone's camera, scan the QR code, which will direct you to the audio program on YouTube.