After her kids are in bed for the night, Tami Lee heads to Mae Richardson Elementary to get in a couple hours of painting.
Over the past five months, Lee, the mother of four children ages 1 to 14, has managed to carve out enough time — at least 100 hours — to transform the school’s “institutional-looking,” slate-gray lobby into a colorful, mural featuring several familiar faces, school activities and landmarks, as well as the school mascot — Rocky the ram.
At the beginning of the summer, Lee, a photographer and self-taught artist, along with Principal Lynn Scott and front office manager Julie Ironside, who is also Lee’s sister-in-law, began brainstorming ways to make the school more welcoming and friendly.
“We started talking about ways to make it fun and more approachable so kids would want to come to school,” Lee said, adding that the mural was Ironside’s idea.
The mural covers about six walls in the lobby and front office, and Lee has plans to continue it into the library. She expects to spend at least another 40 hours on the project. The school is paying her a stipend for her time and the materials.
The landscape is simple — blue skies and fluffy white clouds over grassy hills with pink flowers — but Lee included Scott, longtime Central Point educator Mae Richardson, former principal Susan Dippel and a D.A.R.E. officer in the mural. Lee also painted the children to resemble kids in the school, including a little boy with a fohawk and another with a cochlear implant.
Academics and sports are represented in the mural, as are the school’s playground, the annual Sams Valley Mini Marathon, an Erickson helicopter — the company employs many of the parents in the school — and kids playing marbles, a popular school activity during the spring.
“It’s all the stuff that’s important to our school,” said Scott. “When the kids came back to school, they were like ‘I think that’s me on the wall.’ ”
Scott said she saw some students taking selfies with their look-alikes.
“I feel that everyone is represented,” Lee said. “Everyone can come in and find themselves.”
Although none of Lee’s kids attend the school, her oldest two graduated from Mae Richardson, and she plans to send her youngest two there as soon as they are old enough.
Reach education reporter Teresa Thomas at 541-776-4497 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her at www.twitter.com/teresathomas_mt.