Community Partnership Brightens Student Learning 

Hard work and creativity combine to make one CPS school a work of art

January 22, 2013

Today, students from Lafayette Elementary returned from a long weekend to find their school splashed with color, as fresh paint and vibrant murals brought new life to every available space.  


“Our school had not been painted in years,” said Lauren Albani, Principal at Lafayette. “Now our students have a clean, bright building that will make them more excited about being at school.”


Beautifying Lafayette was the Day of Service project for City Year – an education nonprofit that partners with schools to bolster student attendance and keep kids on track to graduate. This annual service project, which is always held on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, focuses on improving the physical appearance of a school – something organizers hope leads to increased attendance and better academic performance.


“These projects are really exciting,” said Johnny Barr, who coordinated the Lafayette event for City Year. “It shows the kids that someone is thinking about them in a way that they didn’t expect.”


More than 600 people gathered at Lafayette on Monday to transform the entire school into a work of art. Volunteers included students from the school’s Humboldt Park neighborhood, as well as groups sent by the Chicago Bulls, Governor Quinn’s Office, AmeriCorps, and many other City Year partners. The day began with opening ceremonies that reflected on the importance of education and the need for service in schools. The volunteers then broke into teams and set about beautifying their assigned spaces.


In the days leading up to the event, City Year had visited Lafayette to prepare each space for its transformation. “We taped up the borders, established paint stations, and made light pencil sketches of the murals on each wall,” said Johnny Barr. “Anything to make the work of our volunteers easier. We wanted them to be able to just pick up a paint brush and get started.”


The murals have many themes, including Dr. Seuss for the primary grades, musical notation for the fine arts hall, portraits of famous athletes and their quotes near the gym, and images of Chicago history curving up the stairways.


“We’re so proud that we were selected for this project,” said Principal Lauren Albani. “Seeing these murals on the walls increases our students’ investment in school pride. It makes them want to be in school more, which naturally means that they are learning more.”


Twenty benches were also created as part of the Day of Service project, and were decorated with art representative of Lafayette’s ethnically diverse student body, which includes, among others, students of Mexican and Puerto Rican descent. These benches will be placed in prominent locations both inside and outside the school so that all who attend and visit Lafayette may enjoy them.


City Year, which has operations in 24 cities across the United States, has been partnering with the Chicago Public Schools for more than a decade. “We value our growing relationship with CPS,” said Johnny Barr. “And we truly enjoy being part of these projects. We only wish we could be there to see the students’ faces when they come back to find their school completely transformed by art.”


For more information on City Year, visit