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Manteca high mural project spreads to Cowell
Hayden Coronado, left, and Andrew Gilton, both 5 years old, stand on either side of artist April Garcia in front of one of the two murals that she and fellow Manteca High graduate Safa Shabbar painted for Joshua Cowell School. Hayden and Andrew will be starting kindergarten at the school in August. - photo by ROSE ALBANO RISSO

Kirt Giovannoni’s award-winning mural class at Manteca High has spilled over to Joshua Cowell Elementary School.

Two of the retired art teacher’s former students have just completed two murals at the Cougars’ Pestana Avenue campus using the techniques they learned from Giovannoni’s class.

The young muralists are April Garcia and Safa Shabbar who both graduated from Manteca High Class of 2011 and have just finished their first year at Delta College in Stockton. Garcia is studying to be a nurse and hopes to continue her studies at a university for a bachelor’s degree. Shabbar is taking general courses for now.

The two artists got involved in the project when Joshua Cowell School Principal Bonnie Bennett started thinking about new ways to make the incoming kindergarten students feel good and positive about school since this will be their first time to step into the academic world.

“I knew that I wanted to make the school look inviting and welcoming,” Bennett explained.

Once the decision was made on a mural project for the outside wall of the kindergarten classroom facing the 5-year-olds’ playground area, the principal along with the school’s Community Club and the Student Body proceeded to the next step – meeting with Giovannoni. They asked him if he knew of “two young ladies who would like to do these murals for us,” Bennett said.

Giovannoni recommended Garcia and Shabbar. Half of the pair was a plus for the school as far as Bennett was concerned. Garcia was once a student at Cowell School.

Garcia said their work on the two murals was a collaborative effort all the way. The former high school classmates worked together on the concept, design and the painting of the large pieces that are now hanging on the north and south ends of the wall outside the kindergarten classroom.

“Play, Learn, and Grow Together” is the message on the south mural showing cartoon-like images of frolicking and smiling young children dressed in vibrant and colorful clothes.

The mural on the north side of the wall shows a Mama Bear and her Baby Bear reading a fairy tale book together. “Once Upon a Time…,” reads one side of the open book, with a picture of a princess and prince on the opposite page.

The kindergarten teachers and their students even had a hand or hands – all pun intended – in the making of the Once Upon a Time mural. A laughing Garcia pointed to the colorful hand markings on the painting and explained that these were the actual hands of the teachers and their students. The teachers’ hands are distinguished not just for their sizes but for the accents that Garcia and Shabbar added to them which made them look like a cougar’s paws. After all, noted the principal, the school’s mascot is the cougar.

Garcia said she and Shabbar had such fun doing the murals. She especially recalled the days when they worked on the mural outside in the grassy area outside of the kindergarten classroom and the children, during recess, would congregate around them and excitedly watch them at work.

The mural project also forged something between the mural artists that would last a lifetime.

“We didn’t know each other before this. Now we’re good friends,” said Garcia with a big smile.