Retiring teacher leaves beautiful murals as a gift to Wright Middle School
Students at Wright Middle only have to walk down the hall to see a tropical rain forest, travel through time and space, view the flags and symbols of other countries, or learn about our own nation’s heroes and leaders. All are right there thanks to the creative efforts of the students themselves under the oversight of art instructor Doug Eley.
What began a few years ago as a request from Principal Jud Haynie to beautify the school and engage students has turned into something much more for art instructor Doug Eley. A teacher who left the profession to spend 25 years as a stock broker, Eley returned to the classroom 12 years ago to teach art to 6th, 7th and 8th grades. Planning each new addition and helping students execute each design are not just part of Eley’s job; they are demonstration of the pride he has for his school and the love he has for working with his students. He spends a lot of his time after school and even some weekends working on the projects and touching up where paintings have been damaged by the normal wear and tear of more than 900 students passing by.
“It’s just something I really enjoy, it’s a lot of fun,” Eley explains. “Students have a lot of fun with it and I can see how their confidence grows and how proud they are when they complete a piece.”
Walking through the school, Eley points to each painting and shares stories – what the painting represents, the student artist, etc. Each grade has selected a theme, with fifth graders choosing travel and space, sixth grade selecting history/historical timeline, seventh choosing International themes to honor the diversity of students enrolled at Wright, and eighth grade honoring heroes and leaders. Paintings are tied to the curriculum and every student at the school has an opportunity to contribute at some point during their time at Wright. Common halls near the cafeteria and gym have images from the rain forest and a pirate’s cove – a nod to the school mascot, the Raiders. School staff and visitors will recognize some of the paintings. Among the images is one of Wright’s health and PE teachers, immortalized as a pirate on the wall near the gym. This same wall gives basketball opponents from rival schools something to think about as they see the smoking ruins of pirate ships carrying their own school flags and mascots painted for all to see.
“I think the students and Mr. Eley have done an excellent job,” said Principal Haynie. “I didn’t really have an idea of what I expected when I first asked him to do something with the walls – I just wanted something the students could help with that would make our school a more attractive place to learn. I am as excited as the students as each new picture goes up.”
Eley’s tenure as a full-time teacher will come to an end with this school year. He has decided to retire, but has no plans to stop working. There is still one side of the rain forest to be painted and he hopes to help get that project underway. He may even return to work as a substitute teacher or teach art classes in the community. Either way, his work at Wright will leave a lasting legacy for current and future students.