Melrose Leadership Academy has occupied its current location around a year now. In this short period of time it's become an integral part of Oakland’s Maxwell Park. Stepping through the front door, one is immediately greeted by art. A beautiful interpretation of Oakland’s tree logo in beaming colors graces the entry. Throughout the school art is literally everywhere. MLA takes an integrated approach to involving art in its curriculum and the every day life of its students.
“We’ve always had art in the school, because it’s a way for students to understand themselves and the world. We don’t see it as an add-on, it’s an essential component of education,” said Moytra Contreras, Principal of Melrose Leadership Academy.
The school is bilingual and teaches students using a dual immersion approach. The goal is to teach both native English and native Spanish speakers fluency in both languages and increase cross-cultural awareness. The school’s philosophy of cultural diversity extends to its approach to the arts.
Parents are actively involved in the school. Standing in front of a mural by MLA’s middle school art teacher Pancho Pescador, one parent described her take on the school’s approach to art education.
“The kids focus on both urban graffiti-influenced street art and traditional visual arts,” explained Maggie Salop, parent to two third graders at the school.
The Pescador mural features Native American and animal figures. It is an impressive piece spanning the entirety of the wall surrounding the rear exit of the main building. A work in progress, it is already compelling. Pescador cleverly situates one male figure so he appears to be straddling the safety rail for the staircase.
Inside the building are more portable works: paintings by the students themselves. Iconic modern images such as Homer Simpson and the Oakland tree logo combine with imagery conjured from cultural experience and youthful imagination.
Parents and faculty are not the only members of the community involved in MLA’s arts and beautification programs. Jane Stallman, Oakland Sunrise Rotary Club coordinator, and community coordinator for the school’s Art Chair Project, was found working in the garden. The art chair project involved artists, some well known, donating "art" chairs to the school auction.
Stallman said of the project, “It was community-building, building a community of artists and their relationship to the school”