July 20, 2018

Ellen DeGeneres courtesy of Chris Hall
Ellen DeGeneres courtesy of Chris Hall

February is Black History Month in the United States, and many students across the country will do special projects to celebrate, but none are quite like the mural completed a few years back by the students at Joseph Lee School in Boston, MA. It consisted of a 6 ft. x 18 ft. construction paper mosaic, using over 12,000 pieces of paper, depicting President Barack Obama, Rosa Parks, Oprah Winfrey, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. What’s even more amazing is that the life-like mosaic portraits were completed entirely by students with autism.

The murals were the brainchild of Chris Hall, who teaches the Sensory Arts program at Joseph Lee school in Dorchester, MA. Since then, his class has gone on to create mosaic portraits of multiple celebrities, including Senator Elizabeth Warren, Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, and Lucky the Leprechaun from the Boston Celtics. Their latest project is called “The World’s Largest Mosaic of Ellen by Students With Autism“, featuring talk-show host Ellen DeGeneres. The mural is 7.5 feet wide, 8 feet tall, and contains 33,264 tiles.

“We chose to honor Ellen because she has always been known for rooting for the underdog, providing recognition to extraordinary individuals, showcasing positive stories of accomplishment, and not to mention her awesome dance moves. Most importantly, Ellen has helped us appreciate ourselves for who we are as individuals, celebrate our differences, and to accept people for who they are inside,” says Hall.

The Sensory Art program began three years ago, when principal Kimberly Curtis-Crowley hired Hall to create a class that would incorporate gross and fine motor skills with art. The program currently has 153 students ranging in age from 3 to 14. Hall describes the class as a mix of art, music, dance, and performing arts.

For their next project, Hall is planning to create a mosaic of the Boston skyline with puzzle pieces and a blue light bulb for Autism Awareness month in April. He has created an account at DonorsChoose.org to raise fund for the mural, which will contain over 100,00 tiles.
Elizabeth Gomes, parent of a child in the program, says,

“As an autistic parent, you don’t know what to expect. and then when I came up and I saw this and I saw what Mr. Chris was able to do with our kids, bringing out the best in them, you know, there’s something embedded in them and he brought it out. It just brought tears to my eyes.”

Hall says,

“I have only been teaching students with autism for three years now, and so far the key to my success has been simple: challenge them, be positive, treat them with the respect and dignity that you would anyone else, hold them accountable for their actions, and let them know when you are proud of them. In other words, treat them like kids.”

Photos of the student’s art work can be viewed on their facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/sensoryartsautism.

To support upcoming projects, visit their page at http://www.donorschoose.org/sensoryarts?supporters=true.

About the author 

Laurel Joss

Laurel Joss is a freelance writer with a Master’s Degree in Early Childhood Education. She worked as an RDI® Program Certified Consultant and has published articles in Autism Spectrum Quarterly and on her blog www.remediatingautism.blogspot.com. She is a mother to two children, one of whom is on the autism spectrum. You can also follow her on https://twitter.com/speaking_autism and https://www.facebook.com/speaking.autism.ca

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