High School Students Transform Paediatric Inpatient Unit

Students at John Paul II Catholic Secondary School put their talents to work for Children’s Hospital

In early 2022, John Paull II Catholic Secondary School art teacher Christine Mancini received a text from her friend Ashley Stephen, a nurse in the Paediatric Inpatient Unit at Children’s Hospital. Ashley had a question for Christine: would her students be interested in creating some fun murals for the unit?

“Our previous walls were white, cream or green and just not as child focused as it could be for a children’s hospital, especially when looking at what other hospitals had done,” Ashley explains. 

Christine didn’t hesitate. As an art teacher, she saw a clear opportunity to engage her students with a rewarding project. Many of her students are in the school’s Specialist High Skills Major (SHSM) Arts and Culture program, which provides opportunities for specialized training to students with a keen interest in visual and media arts.
“I told her that this would be a fantastic project for our students and a wonderful way for them to share their artistic talents and to make a meaningful contribution to the community,” Christine says.
The Paediatric Inpatient Unit staff collaborated on developing themes for the murals. Everybody had a chance to provide input, and as they worked, they sent vision panels to Christine.
An artist leaning over a large mural to work on completing it.
From there, the development was open to interpretation. “We wanted the students to feel like they had the artistic ability to create what they felt was fitting,” Ashley explains.
There are 10 murals altogether: a desert scene, two farm scenes, an underwater Arctic scene, a Northern Lights Arctic scene, a rainforest scene, a safari scene, woodland scenes and a more general welcome mural.
Ashley says that the welcome mural was the one she felt most certain that the floor needed. “We receive so many patients not only from all over Ontario, but all over the world,” she explains. “My hope was that they would see this particular mural and feel welcome and included, even if we may not all speak the same language.”
In total, over 80 students volunteered their time for the project, building panels at the direction of construction teacher Olindo Rizzolo and designing and painting the 10 murals under Christine’s tutelage.
Contributions from community donors included lumber from Home Hardware Dundas East to create the mural panels, and Home Depot Clarke Road donated some of the paints the students worked with.

The process took about 16 months from start to finish, with students working through lunch hours and staying after class to bring the designs to life.

Six people posing in front of a Children's Hospital mural.
From left to right: Charlie Weir of London International Airport; Clinical Educator Leanna Biehn; Christine Mancini, Manager Ausra Mast; Ashley Stephen; Carlo Mancini of London International Airport

With donated transportation help from London International Airport, the murals were installed in the summer of 2023 and since then, the mood in the Paediatric Inpatient Unit has noticeably brightened, Ashley says.

“We have some patients on our unit for a long time, or ones who are admitted often, and they were so excited for them,” she says. “We have gotten so many kind words about them from families, as well as staff. Staff as a whole have said they are stunning and they brighten up a once-dull space. We use them for therapy, having patients walk to the safari picture, or play Eye Spy. It’s been great.”

An artist squatting to work on a large unfinished mural,
The effect has been just as powerful for the students at John Paul II. A new initiative grew out of the project, Christine says: Art from the Heart.
“Art has a transformative power to enhance the way we see, feel, learn, connect and live,” Christine says. This project has united students from diverse backgrounds, new friendships have been formed, students have developed more confidence in themselves and their artistic skills, they have become compassionate citizens, and being part of the Jaguars ‘Art from the Heart’ team has helped many of our students feel a greater sense of belonging and connectedness to our school community.”
“When the completed paintings were displayed around the room, it was a pretty emotional experience for me,” she says. “Through the endless hours of designing and painting the students have shown their passion for art and dedication to giving back to the community. I couldn’t be more proud of them.”
Two artists sitting on the floor to work on an Arctic themed mural.Christine’s students in the Art from the Heart program may get to sharpen their skills even more, as Ashley says that other units in the hospital have expressed interest in having murals of their own. But, even if those murals don’t come from Christine’s class, she still holds out hope that the spirit of goodwill spreads.
It is our hope that this story inspires other students, schools, SHSM  programs to share their artistic gifts with their communities/hospitals,” she says.
The students get much more than a passing grade from Ashley and her colleagues. “This has been such a rewarding project to lead, and these students are so beyond talented,” she says. “They had an incredible teacher in Christine, who was always eager to share the progress. I don’t think any of us expected it to take as long as it did, but the reward was well worth the wait.”

A desert scene mural created by high school students.
A wall mural featuring an arctic scene painted by high school students.
An underwater arctic mural.
Two wall murals featuring animals in a woodlands scene.
A farm wall mural featuring a pig driving a tractor.
A farm scene mural featuring a cow in a hay field.
A mural depicting animals commonly seen on safari driving a jeep through African savannah.
A multicultural-themed mural reading "Welcome to B6-200"
The signature on a painting reading "John Paul II Catholic Secondary School 2023"

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