SOUTHINGTON — The photos and names of more than 250 Kennedy Middle School eighth graders, who are moving onto high school, now adorn the school's street-facing windows.
They are accompanied by hearts, stars and a simple message, all in the school’s colors — green and white. It reads: “Good luck eighth graders. We miss you.”
“The entire front face of the building is a tribute to our eighth graders,” said Kennedy Assistant Principal Susanne Vitcavage, who explained that she had hatched the idea in April. It became a reality this week.
“I can't take credit for the decorating,” Vitcavage said. The green and white lettering, stars and hearts now on display were all the handiwork of Michael Serafino, a paraprofessional at the school and its artist in residence.
Karen Longo, one of the school's secretaries, also helped install the display, which was completed Thursday morning.
It now runs across the windows of Kennedy's band room, orchestra room and computer lab.
Vitcavage said she and schools staff are trying to find unique ways to recognize students after traditional events, like class night, had to be canceled.
The photos are copies of those in the school's yearbook. They were taken by Art Rich Photography. Art Rich died in April at 73 after being infected with COVID-19.
Vitcavage contacted the Rich family seeking a copyright waiver to use the photos. Jason Rich happily granted that waiver earlier this week.
“We're just trying to help the public,” Rich said.
Vitcavage was then able to order five-by-seven-inch copies of the photos, which were printed earlier in the week.
Passersby driving along Route 10 can see the display. Vitcavage admitted she cried a few tears after seeing the finished display.
“It's absolutely beautiful,” she said. “It's even better than I thought.”
Families had already started to drive by the school Thursday to see the surprise, which Vitcavage had previously hinted at via social media.
Serafino completed the project on his own time, between virtual meetings with students and staff and other school activities.
For Serafino, the project was worth the endeavor. He and other school staff hadn't seen the students in person since mid-March, when Kennedy and all other schools across the state had to close.
The social aspect of school was suddenly disrupted. “Seeing your friends, and getting excited for summer... all of that was taken away from our eighth graders,” Serafino said.
“There's a lot of awesome kids who I really enjoyed seeing every day,” Serafino said. He said creating a mural was the least that he could do for them.