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Vanguard Art Teacher, Students Celebrate School Culture with Mural

From Sarah Anderson’s classroom comes art that will celebrate students’ community and cultures for years to come.
 A student painting at a table.

For the past year scholars have been working, canvasing the walls with a silhouette of Grand Rapids, adorned with symbols of significance at Vanguard Charter Academy. Anderson’s class generated the idea and had to design a rough draft. After the school administrators approved the designs, they were applied to the roughly 30-foot by 10-foot wall outside the gym. Student work on the mural as select individuals, opting out of their regular assignments.
“It’s been a long but super fun process,” Anderson said. “It’s got a silhouette of Grand Rapids. Within the buildings, they’re drawing symbols that represent their cultures because we have a ton of different cultures here at Vanguard.”

Student paintings lining the wall.

Anderson also puts on paint nights where parents and students create art together, similar to a wine and canvas or cookies and canvas night as a chance for students to have quality time after school with their families. Paint night continued virtually during the pandemic and Anderson is glad to have it return next month in-person.
“They get to talk through something and a lot of the times, the students will actually talk to their parents about like ‘this is what I learned how to do,’” she said. “They’ll be able to show off their skills, the parents are impressed, and the kids feel validated. It’s a catalyst for conversation.”
 Students painting basketball players.

Anderson stresses to tell her scholars that it takes time to become a better artist, and the only disparity between her and them is the number of hours she has put in.
“The only difference between my skill and their skill is time and so I constantly tell them, ‘The only difference between me and you is practice,’” she said. “I think I’ve helped promote a growth mindset, which is what we’re really after in the school. I think that that’s something that every adult needs as well. A lot of adults are just like, ‘Yeah, I'm not good at that because I haven't had practice’ and I think that just makes life a little bit more simple.”
 A student painting a moonlit night.

Before coming to Vanguard, Anderson taught in South Dakota for four years through Teach for America. She enjoys the close-knit atmosphere at Vanguard and the camaraderie among the staff.
“We’re all looking out for each other,” she said. “It's just a very different community than any other school I've ever worked at. Just very much like a family. The kids that I get to work with are just so talented and willing to learn and cheerful. I just look forward to coming to work every day like I never have in my career.”
Keep up the excellent work, Ms. Anderson!
Vanguard Charter Academy is a tuition-free, public charter school in Wyoming, Michigan, serving students in Young 5s through eighth grade. It is part of the National Heritage Academies network, which includes over 95 tuition-free, public charter schools serving more than 65,000 students in kindergarten through 12th grade across nine states. For more information, visit

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