Students in 11 Stafford County schools are deepening their understanding of local history and creating art to tell stories through a partnership between the school division, the Stafford Education Foundation and the Stafford Museum and Cultural Center.
The organizations established a grant project in March that provides $44,000 to fund 11 mural projects that highlight the county’s local history, from the Patawomeck tribe to the Civil War to the civil rights movement.
“We are proud to partner with the Stafford County Schools and the Stafford Education Foundation to show the rich history of Stafford County, as well as the creativity and artistic skills of our students,” said Scott Mayausky, vice president of the Stafford County Museum and Cultural Center. “These murals will serve as a source of pride not only for the students and schools, but the entire community.”
Eric Powell, teaching and learning facilitator for history and social science at Stafford schools, and a member of the museum’s education committee, said the project was inspired by a mural that students at Anthony Burns Elementary wanted to paint in the school’s office.
The mural depicts events in the life of Anthony Burns, who was born into slavery in Stafford, escaped to Boston and was captured and returned to Virginia under the Fugitive Slave Act.
Public outrage at this increased opposition to slavery in the north and Boston sympathizers eventually purchased Burns’s freedom.
Powell said the Stafford museum, which does not yet have a physical home, was looking to ramp up its programming.
“We decided to offer some grants for schools to do other murals to promote local history as a project for the Stafford museum,” he said.
The museum brought in the Stafford Education Foundation, which has experience providing grants for innovative teaching in the schools.
The groups initially budgeted $40,000 for the mural projects, anticipating that 10 schools would apply. When 11 applications came in, they added additional funding.
“We were thrilled with the response from the schools,” Powell said.
The 11 schools that received the grants are Anthony Burns, Conway, Falmouth, Grafton Village, Margaret Brent, Rocky Run and Widewater elementary schools; Drew and Rodney Thompson middle schools; and Colonial Forge and Stafford high schools.
In the initial applications, schools described their mural designs and then submitted sketches.
“We reviewed those sketches and provided feedback as far as making sure history was accurate and that there was diversity in the stories that were being told,” Powell said. “That was one of our goals—promoting the diverse history of Stafford.”
Drew Middle School’s mural will highlight the Stafford Five—the five students who in 1961 attempted to integrate the school, which at the time was Stafford Senior High School.
Grafton Village Elementary School is near the site where Abraham Lincoln conducted a review of Union troops prior to the battle of Chancellorsville in 1863 and the school’s mural will commemorate that event.
Students at the present-day Stafford High School are working with members of the Patawomeck tribe to portray a historically accurate Indian village of the 17th century.
The project at Widewater Elementary will depict several people from history, including Sam Langley, an aviation pioneer who conducted flight experiments in the Widewater area in 1896, and Harlem Renaissance painter Palmer Hayden, who was born in the area.
The grants were awarded over the summer and the murals will be completed by winter break, Powell said.
Several, such as those at Rodney Thompson Middle School and Margaret Brent Elementary School, are already complete or nearing completion.
Powell said the organizations hope to be able to offer another round of grants next year.
“We’re really excited about this community partnership and the chance to tell a diverse set of stories about the truly fascinating history that Stafford County has,” he said.