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Inspired by new ethnic studies class, a student-designed mural is taking shape at Menlo-Atherton High School

Sophomore Celine Chien won the competition for the mural design in 2021, which was decided by class vote.
Winning sketch for the new mural at Menlo-Atherton High School by Celine Chien. Courtesy Celine Chien.

A new mural at Menlo-Atherton High School is set to be finished just in time for the start of the new school year.

Menlo-Atherton High School alum Jose Castro and rising sophomore Celine Chien stand in front of the wall where work has started on a mural based on her design. Courtesy Celine Chien.

Sophomore Celine Chien designed the mural to commemorate M-A’s new ethnic studies class that was added as a required course for all freshmen last year.

Chien won the competition for the mural design in 2021, which was decided by class vote.

“I think my painting is more than just a mural,” she said, “but also a symbol of our school taking steps in the right direction, with the establishment of the ethnic studies course.”

The mural is in the process of being painted by artist and M-A alum Jose Castro in the school’s K-wing.

Chien's design incorporates the diverse range of heritages and histories present in the Bay Area. The top of the mural, Chien said, “points to the future” by displaying M-A students standing together as a community.

“It's a symbol of hope that our school will finally be able to reach the day where we can really recognize strength and diversity,” Chien said.

While she thinks there is lots of room for improvement at M-A, Chien said she hopes that the mural can inspire a better future through the history it depicts.

“M-A has a huge history of racial tension, with the school basically feeding in from some of the most different zip codes in the area, socio-economically and also racially,” said Chien.

“One thing that ethnic studies taught me was to look at my own history, that was one thing going into the mural that I really wanted to incorporate," she said. "How can I incorporate my own history and how can I make sure that other people's voices are represented.”

Castro, who graduated M-A in 2009, estimates he will be done painting the mural in time for the start of the school year later this month.

“It's always good to reconnect with my community,” Castro said. “To be able to do this now at my old high school was definitely a check off my bucket list, to be giving back and inspiring the youth and involving others.”

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