MADISON, NJ – As a horde of young students flooded the halls of Torey J. Sabatini School on Thursday evening with parents in tow, each one had something to say.

“I painted that!” they cried, showing off the flowers, grassy patches, rocks and other areas they painted in Torey J.’s main entrance as part of its new mural. 

Though the crowds that gathered on Thursday were primarily there for Curriculum Night, the Torey J. Parent-Teacher Organization and school Principal Allison Stager had something else in store: a ribbon-cutting ceremony to officially unveil the mural.

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Masterminded by Morris Arts-affiliated painter Caren Frost Olmstead, the mural themes encompass the results of a survey that asked each student what they love about their school and town, according to art teacher Michael Watson, who applied for $9,400 in grants from the PTO and Madison Education Foundation that funded the project.

Themes include Bottle Hill Day, the school garden, May Day, kickball on the playground and music and arts, among others.

The mural’s creation was “almost like a paint by number,” said Jaime Conroy, president of the Torey J. PTO. After Olmstead sketched out the initial design, each class was assigned to a different area. Conroy’s fifth-grade daughter Ella said she painted the yellow in the sunflowers that are part of the mural’s community garden section.

“We wanted every kid who comes through these halls for years to just feel like, ‘This is my school, this is my community, this is my town,’ and find pride in it,” she said. 

PTO members and other parents then came in and did the cleanup work, and Olmstead finished off with the detailing. Through this joint “labor of love,” the mural was completed in under three weeks, according to parent volunteer organizer Ayslin Picarello. 

“It changed the whole culture of the school,” Watson said, adding that the entranceway looked similar to a “government prison” before its walls were adorned with colorful paintings last month.

The mural has quite a long life ahead of it, Conroy said. It should last for 10-15 years. 

Painted within several parts of the mural are inspirational sayings, which Picarello said send a “message of encouragement and warmth and inclusion” for all students at Torey J.

“School should be a comfortable, safe place for kids where they are set up to learn and be successful,” she said. “This really helps just set the mood.” 

Inspired the by school’s 50th anniversary next year, the mural is partly an homage to Torey J. Sabatini, a longtime Madison Board of Education member and resident for whom the school was named. 

Near the school’s front doors, the poem “Success” by Ralph Waldo Emerson is painted on the wall. Sabatini carried the poem in his wallet every day “to remind himself what it means to live a successful life,” said Torey J. Principal Allison Stager at the ribbon-cutting ceremony. 

“It is great to see that the poem that Torey J. Sabatini carried around meant so much to this town and this school system,” Mayor Bob Conley said in his pre-ribbon cutting speech. 

The mural is a “thing of beauty” and a “great example” of how Madisonians come together to make a difference, he said. 

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