Rachel’s Challenge recently spoke to Brad Scott, the Art Teacher, at Royalton Hartland Middle School in New York and asked him about his vision and process for accomplishing his school’s very impressive “Hands Wall”. Learn what Brad said on how he started it and how he continues to add more hands year after year. He also shares five practical tips to making the hands look good on the walls. Read more and watch the two videos.
Rachel’s Challenge: Tell me your role with the “Hands Wall” at your school.
Brad: It started way back with the original (Rachel’s Challenge) “Chain Reaction” workshop (years ago). I was talking with my principal about what can we do. I hadn’t seen the (Rachel’s Challenge Chain Reaction) presentation until I came to this school, and it just seems like such a powerful and visceral presentation with the students that I thought it would be interesting to have an art project that had that same feeling where it could just be a really big impact with students and they could really connect with it. So in the presentation I remember seeing the handprints of Rachel behind her dresser. It’s a powerful picture, a powerful image of seeing her hand prints and the quote, “Someday these hands will touch millions of hearts.” It really struck a chord with me. So I thought we can do the same idea with all of the students’ hand prints. I painted the quote on the wall and stuff like that. That’s where the whole idea originated. It was just coming up with something where each student can participate, has a visual impact, and would be a permanent record where students remember participating in spreading the kindness and compassion for years to come.
Rachel’s Challenge: So what was your vision? Did you imagine the hands painted on several hallways?
Brad: The original vision of having all of the hand prints all at once seemed really daunting at first. To get 500 students plus the faculty, cafeteria workers, the whole school community was a little bit daunting. But after we got to see of few of them, and then there was 50, then 100 and then you can kind of get a sense of what this project would really look like and the scope of it. It was exciting to see. And then I was like, “Wow, I can’t wait for it to be all the hand prints.” Then year after year it’s always a question with other people around the building, “Where are they going to go this year? How much further are they going to go? Are you going to run out of wall space?” It was exciting to see all of the hand prints and each year there’s more and more and more and more.
Rachel’s Challenge: What does it mean to you when you walk down these halls?
Brad: It’s a real personal thing because I painted each one of these hands. Whether it’s new teachers, community members, or elected officials, they’re just in awe. It’s just a really cool feeling personally to be a part of that and to help spread the chain reaction. It’s all about kindness and compassion and a great message for the school, students, and the community.
Rachel’s Challenge: How has this project touched the hearts of students by putting their hand prints on the walls?
Brad: Being an art teacher, I think a lot about visual information. I watch students and what they watch when they’re walking down the halls. Anytime a student walks through here, whether it’s an older brother, sister, cousin, friend, they’re always looking for their hands, seeing and comparing. I think it’s really interesting. We do it (add the students hand prints) in fifth grade because as the students leave the building as an eighth grader, their hands grow. The idea is that not only do they physically grow but hopefully their hearts grow as well. I think that’s kind of a neat way to think of it, “My hand is a little bit bigger, but I am a little bit nicer than when I came here, or when I started school, or as I leave school.” Anyways, I hope that’s what they’re thinking.
IT WAS JUST COMING UP WITH SOMETHING WHERE EACH STUDENT CAN PARTICIPATE, HAS A VISUAL IMPACT, AND WOULD BE A PERMANENT RECORD WHERE STUDENTS REMEMBER PARTICIPATING IN SPREADING THE KINDNESS AND COMPASSION FOR YEARS TO COME.
Brad Scott, Art Teacher at Royalton Hartland Middle School
Rachel’s Challenge: What do these walls mean to the students?
Brad: When the students come to middle school they want to do it on the first day. They just think it’s a hand print on the wall. Then when they go to the (Rachel’s Challenge Chain Reaction) workshop and they understand what the message is and why we do it this way, then they go, “Oh I get it and this is what that hand print is about.” It’s not just doing a fun art project because that’s fun too. But this is really a message, a meaning, a promise that they hopefully will keep for the rest of their lives. That’s really exciting to see. When I’m making every single hand print or painting their hands, it kind of tickles and they’re excited to do it. But just to be able to make that physical connection with being kind and compassionate … it energizes me to do this with students.
Rachel’s Challenge: You ask the students to say a promise when they add their handprint. Can you tell me about the importance of having the students verbalize the promise?
Brad: When we ask them to say, “ I promise to spread kindness and compassion in anyway I can”, the hope is just to capture that moment in time when they’re making their hand print… a visceral, physical act that they’ll be able to see on the wall for many years to come and remember, “I got to remember to do that on a day-to-day basis, to spread kindness and compassion.