Color Out of Space

By Elena Chamberlain, Current Staff

Ceiling tiles or blank canvases? The white, removable ceiling tiles have sprouted student-led creativity at West Bend West High School.

Seven years ago in history teacher Aaron Paulin’s room, students brought up the idea to paint his ceiling tiles based on what they were learning about in class. In another room across the high school, a student of English teacher Kathryn Colwell painted a tile as well, although she had no permission. All of these tiles have been the basis for a whirlwind of questions throughout the student body and faculty.

“The entire purpose of the tile project is to enhance the learning environment while growing our classroom culture through our curricular activities,” Paulin said. 

When students brought up the idea in class, Mr. Paulin and the administration were immensely supportive of this curriculum-based creativity. He believes that the students wanted to brighten their school environment, and the blank ceiling tiles seemed a good way to start in their eyes. Paulin’s ceiling is now almost completely covered from years of creative students. 

“All of this builds culture, pride, and community,” Paulin said. “These are all principles we try to establish in my room through our tile project.” 

Although the ceiling tiles are a main piece of art in Paulin’s room, he has also incorporated murals and memorials all connected to the information students learn in his classes. 

“The main themes have been connected to what I teach (US History and Global Studies) but has grown to other areas of interest that are also related to class,” Paulin said. 

Each tile has a specific topic, all of which are connected to the curriculum and chosen by the students as they paint them. Colwell’s room is similar, although hers are mostly about English topics, including literature read in class.

I wanted the tiles to represent me and my classroom, and the beauty of what my colleagues and I do,” Colwell said. 

All of her tiles relate to literature, including quotes from “Hamlet,” “Wuthering Heights,” “1984,” and numerous poems. Only one of her tiles is from “To Kill A Mockingbird,” which is not read in her class, but she loves reading the quote every day. However, Mrs. Colwell’s original tile is a bit different from Paulin’s.

“One of my former students, Claire Pellegrini, decided to take a tile down one day and use markers to draw a geometric pattern on it,” Colwell said. “She did not have my permission, but it honestly looked better than the plain tile.”

Pelligrini’s tile, which she made in 2012, launched a project which has continued to grow almost large enough to fill Colwell’s ceiling.

(Top image: A painted ceiling tile in West English teacher Kate Colwell’s classroom. Other images are of West social studies teacher Aaron Paulin’s classroom. Photos by Elise Marlett, Editor in Chief.)

1 Comment

Filed under School News and Features

One response to “Color Out of Space

  1. Mark Drake

    Very nice article, Elena!
    It’s no secret that Ms. Colwell & Mr. Paulin happen to be two of the most engaging & respected teachers in the building. The connections that they make with their students are unmatched.
    These student expressions serve so much more than mixing paint and tiles. It’s kinesthetic learning that breaks away from desks and standardized testing. It’s application of knowledge on the student’s terms. It’s an expression of student passion. It’s a time capsule – an artifact of our lives in this building. I would love it if more of this color and creativity were encouraged, and I’d hate to see it erased from our walls and ceilings.
    If you want to see another tremendous example of curriculum meeting art, check out the East Social Studies mural in the X Hallway!

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