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Sac State professor, students help elementary-schoolers create a campus mural that reflects their lives

Sixth-grader Hibba Zahid paints the "La Lotería del Barrio" mural on a Washington Elementary School wall as Sacramento State Assistant Professor Luis Garcia watches on Dec. 4. (Sacramento State/Andrea Price)

On a cool autumn day in Sacramento’s Alkali Flats neighborhood, Hibba Zahid grabbed a brush and started turning the outside wall of her elementary school bright blue.

“I always wanted to do something like this, a street painting,” said Zahid, a sixth-grader at Washington Elementary School. She is one of several students helping create “Lotería del Barrio,” a mural from Sacramento State Assistant Professor of Art Luis Garcia stemming from Garcia and his Sac State students’ ongoing engagement at the elementary campus.

It is the latest project connected to Garcia’s “Barrio Art in the Community” course, which teaches Sac State students how to work with, learn from, and better engage with the communities they serve.

In addition to the mural and ongoing engagement with Washington Elementary families, the class also spent the fall semester organizing Dia de los Muertos activities on campus and is preparing to paint a mural on the building at Sac State that hosts the Hiram Johnson Transitioning High School. The work is supported by one of Sac State’s Anchor University grants, which are given to community-engaged research and projects.

For Garcia, it is not enough to bring art or education into the community. Artists and educators need to be prepared to learn from and work with the community, a concept he embeds deeply into his courses.

"The whole idea of barrio art is for Sac State students to get teaching experience by engaging with communities,” he said. “We're not just going to say, ‘Oh, yeah, we're here to make a mural.’ We want (the community) to make those decisions."

Two Washington Elementary students paint an outdoor mural as Sac State professor Luis Garcia watches.
Washington Elementary students Niko Gsell, kneeling, and Gwen Adams paint "La Lotería del Barrio" on Dec. 4. Assistant Professor Luis Garcia, right, worked with students one-on-one or in small groups to teach them painting techniques and explain the mural-painting process. (Sacramento State/Andrea Price)

The mural emerged from Garcia’s Spring 2023 Barrio Art class, during which he helped Washington Elementary teachers develop curriculum that drew upon the students’ lives and experiences. Sac State students also participated in the professional development.

The teachers used those lessons to develop a project in which elementary students designed new cards for the traditional Lotería game, inspired by their parents’ occupations. The new designs were intended to replace traditional ones that can be seen as problematic, such as “la sirena,” the mermaid, often depicted in objectifying poses, and “el valiente,” the brave man, whose knife wielding glorifies violence.

Garcia incorporated several of the students’ cards into the mural design, and several elementary school students have assisted with the painting. Garcia  teaches them about techniques and the process, either one-on-one or in small groups. Sac State alumni Sarah Rodriguez and Ryan Hall are also helping paint.

The project empowers students by allowing them to inform the mural’s content and appearance based on their experiences and lives. Sac State students receive important experience in designing curriculum that draws upon what Garcia, a former high school art teacher, calls the “funds of knowledge” that their students and their students’ homes and communities possess.

"Traditionally as educators, we focus on teaching content standards we’re supposed to teach of our specific subject, and we often ignore the knowledge that students bring from home and how we can use that knowledge to teach the subjects that we want to teach,” he said.

Rodriguez, who works on the student support staff at Washington Elementary and has helped Garcia paint the mural, said she is excited for the local community to see the finished project.

“We already have people walking by and seeing the grid, and they’re really excited,” Rodriguez said before painting began.

Though she never took Barrio Art in the Community, she was in several of Garcia’s art education courses, where she was introduced to the “funds of knowledge” concept she said has been instrumental to her growth as an educator.

“Growing up, we never really had anyone talk about our home lives, or what we like to do at home, or how our family does things. So, bringing that into the classroom and translating it into these assignments that didn't really feel like assignments is what got me really interested,” Rodriguez said. “It made me feel like this was a class to teach educators to deal with students in a way that they'll feel like they're cared about.”

"The whole idea of barrio art is for Sac State students to get teaching experience by engaging with communities. We're not just going to say, ‘Oh, yeah, we're here to make a mural.’ We want (the community) to make those decisions." -- Luis Garcia, Sacramento State assistant professor of Art

Gema Godina, Washington Elementary’s principal and a Sac State alumna, said the University students who work at the school as part of Garcia’s class form a “missing link” between K-12 and college that can help encourage her students to continue their education.

“They bring that mentorship. They bring that piece for my kids to see themselves as those Sac State students down the road in their education path,” Godina said.

“La Lotería del Barrio” will fill a large part of Washington Elementary’s front wall, prominently displayed along 18th Street. The mural will include a space for student painters to sign their names, a lasting testament to the surrounding neighborhood of their work.

Zahid, the Washington Elementary sixth-grader, said she looks forward to walking by in the future and admiring the work she and fellow students accomplished.

“I’d probably take some pictures of it,” she said. “I’ve been to this school since preschool. This is the only school I’ve been to. It’s really cool to do this.”

Washington Elementary student Hibba Zahid and Sac State professor Luis Garcia painting a mural, outdoors.
The "Lotería del Barrio" mural will include new lotería card designs created by Washington Elementary students inspired by their parents' occupations. In his "Barrio Art in the Community" and other courses, Garcia emphasizes preparing educators and others to work with and learn from the communities they serve. (Sacramento State/Andrea Price)


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About Jonathan Morales

Jonathan Morales joined the Sac State communications team in 2017 as a writer and editor. He previously worked at San Francisco State University and as a newspaper reporter and editor. He enjoys local beer, Bay Area sports teams, and spending time outdoors with his family and dog.

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