At Juanita Sanchez, Students Adorn School Walls with Powerful Art

The mural program, led by art teacher Sue Garland, encourages creativity in high school students from Providence.
Juanita Sanchez
Photography by Mike Braca.

Sue Garland doesn’t teach for accuracy. “I teach for divergence,” says Garland, who guides students as they conceptualize and execute large-scale murals adorning Juanita Sanchez Educational Complex in Providence. One of her students — the self-anointed Premature Picasso — was mid-mural when the pandemic struck. “He just disappeared,” says Garland, adding that many students fell off the radar during virtual learning. But she convinced him to return that summer and, side-by-side, they painted a mural anchored by a quote from the film Black Panther, with ancestors in Jordans grounding descendants swimming above them. By the end, the student, a onetime perfectionist, was deploying broad, confident strokes. “He broke through something I’m not even sure he knew was limiting him,” Garland says. Growth takes time but, this fall, her year-long course will split into two to accommodate more students. District administrators cut a dance class and Garland will offer the only arts programming at Juanita Sanchez. “It will definitely change the nature of mural-making,” she says, “but I’m going to try my best. It’s so important.”