GFT’s Garcia, Garfield High students complete art project for hospital

The end of a school year is a busy time for Garfield High School’s art teachers, says Garfield Federation of Teachers member Michael Garcia, one of the fine arts department’s three educators.

With that in mind, Garcia initially didn’t think he could take on a project that was proposed in the spring by fellow Garfield High teacher Victoria Derevyanik: decorating ceiling tiles for Hackensack University Medical Center’s pediatric wing.

Garcia subsequently told Derevyanik that the idea — pitched to her by hospital administrators she knows from working as an EMT — would be great for the summer arts program, should it be held this year.

After receiving the welcome news that the program would happen in 2022, Garcia and GHS students got down to work June 27 painting the tiles, which became the summer arts session’s primary project.

Garcia assembled quotes and phrases that suited the project’s inspirational theme, and when told the tiles would be seen by teens as well as younger children, he selected complementary cartoon characters that he described as “upbeat and multigenerational.”

“I didn’t want to pick the preschool fad of today,” he says. “I tried to pick characters that Mom would know and the kid would know.”

Garcia estimates about 25 students participated in the project; an average of 12-15 kids showed up daily for the morning and afternoon time slots, “but the core group came every day,” he says.

Asked whether the ceiling tiles were an easy material to work with, Garcia says without hesitation, “No.”

“These were old-school [tiles], very Thomas’ English Muffin, nooks-and-crannies [style],” he explains. “So the kids were struggling a little bit with that because it’s hard to write on them — it’s even hard to draw on them because they create shadows.” They overcame the challenge by using special paint that was a little thicker, allowing for better coverage and the best results.

The tiles were completed and delivered to the hospital in July. Garcia says a student field trip to Hackensack University Medical Center once the 2022-23 school year begins so they can view the installed tiles is in the works.