Education feature: Students, staff honor teacher battling cancer with mural

CNJ staff photo: Liliana Castillo Third-grader D.J. Grayson finally found his butterfly in the maze of over 500 butterflies that makes up a mural in honor of third grade teacher Kendra Lennon who left the school in November to battle cancer.

By Liliana Castillo: CNJ staff writer

When Kendra Lennon left Mesa Elementary School to fight cancer, her students and fellow teachers knew they wanted to do something special for her.

So they painted her a mural in a hallway. The mural covers two walls from floor to ceiling and features a pink sunset covered with more than 500 butterflies, each painted by a teacher, parent or student of the school.

Gina Davis, a kindergarten teach at the school, said the idea came to her in her sleep.

“I woke up and thought ‘Oh it would be perfect,’” she said.

The students and teachers began working on the mural in November, shortly after Lennon retired after 25 years with the school. The mural was finished by mid-April.

“At Mesa, we believe in creating beautiful surroundings,” Davis said. “We incorporate multiple intelligences into everything we do.”

Davis said Lennon, who is undergoing chemotherapy treatment in Amarillo this week, has the ability to lift the spirits of those around her.

“And we wanted to do the same for her. We dedicated the mural to her to brighten her spirits,” she said.

Davis said the students, even the 5-year-olds who aren’t certain what cancer is, wanted to do something for the teacher because they knew she was sick.

“They are so proud of what they did,” Davis said.

Several of the students also wrote poetry to go along with the mural and two of the poems were chosen to be painted on the wall.

Third-grader Cassidy Schwartz and her older sister Kelsie and third-grader Katie Spengler’s poems speak of butterflies flitting free.

Katie Spengler said she’d never written a poem before, but drew on her time living in Pennsylvania for inspiration.

“I remember being in the meadows and seeing all those butterflies so I just went with it,” the 8-year-old said. “I wanted to make Mrs. Lennon happy.”

Trey Cottone was one of Lennon’s students before she retired. Even though he had never painted a butterfly, he said he wanted to do his best for her.

“The mural makes me feel happy. The wall isn’t plain anymore and it’s in honor of Mrs. Lennon. I think the mural would make her happy,” the third-grader said.

Davis said teachers at Mesa want students to express themselves through art and learn to serve others.

One of the ways Mesa and its students serve others is by participating in the American Cancer Society’s signature fundraiser Relay for Life each year. This year, the team’s T-shirts featured Lennon’s favorite color pink and her classroom mascot, a gray mouse.

“If you stopped any teacher here, they would tell you they’re close to her. We’re going to get her through this,” Davis said.

Mesa’s Relay team raised $2,231.50, Davis said.