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NBJH Mosaic a Symbol of Healing

A new mosaic adorns the Northbrook Junior High hallway that connects the main lobby to the gym. The colorful piece represents more than the creativity of the 31 or so students and staff who created it. It is the product of a pilot program aimed at providing healing and community connection after two years of schooling during the pandemic.

The piece was created by the NBJH Community Art Club, which for the first time offered an after-school activity for staff and students to work side by side. The idea was to create art as a non-clinical experience to promote empathy, love, connection, health and rebuild a sense of community in a post-COVID year.

NBJH Parent Joe Lombardo came up with the concept to join students and staff together based on his family’s experience with a project called Brushes With Cancer, a core program of a non-profit organization, Twist Out Cancer, that provides psychosocial support for cancer survivors and their loved ones.  Joe is married to Grace Lombardo, who works as an instructional assistant at Greenbriar School and recently faced a second diagnosis of cancer. Their older children attend NBJH.

Mr. Lombardo brainstormed with Twist Out Cancer’s founder, Jenna Benn Shersher, to bring an experience to the junior high similar to the group’s work with cancer patients but instead addressing the emotional challenges associated with the pandemic. Twist Out Cancer provided funding for an art therapist to work alongside NBJH Art Teacher Mark Hay to develop the six-week curriculum.

“We saw this as an opportunity to bring together teachers and students for this year as a reset, a healing opportunity,” Mr. Hay said. “We really liked the concept of teachers and students working side by side to connect in different ways than they usually do in a classroom.”

The group was open to all interested students and staff who could meet for an hour after school once a week. Mr. Hay and art therapist Minon Dupepe came up with the mosaic as a way to build a sense of community and collaboration among the members. The mosaic is modeled after the work of Romero Britto.  Each group member worked on different pieces over two weeks, adding their own marks and colors over others to produce a rich, layered piece.

In connection with Twist Out Cancer, a digital copy of the mosaic is on display during the month of November at the WNDR Museum in Chicago in conjunction with an art exhibit and celebration for Brushes with Cancer Midwest 2022.

“I’m thrilled we could have (the program). I think it  was motivational and inspirational even to people who couldn't participate,” Mr. Hay said.

We had a consistent group of students and I’m appreciative of our community coming together on a pretty cool opportunity,” said Principal Scott Meek.

Members of the NBJH Community Art Club gather round the mosaic they created this fall.

Hear the story of how this club came together and its impact on students and staff on Season 1 Episode 1 of Insight28.

Insight28 stories & voices podcast