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At Joseph Lee School students create massive mosaics one piece of paper at a time

Posted by Patrick Rosso  March 20, 2013 04:46 PM

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(Patrick D. Rosso/

In Video: A look at the Joseph Lee School’s Sensory Arts program and the mosaic murals created by its students.

A group of autistic students at Dorchester’s Joseph Lee School are creating works of art with tiny pieces of paper.

Part of the school’s Sensory Arts program, 50 students in grades two-six over the past year have made a number of mosaics of famous figures from African-American history and contemporary politics and culture.

With some murals reaching 10-feet high, 20-feet across, and taking upwards of 16,000 individual one-inch pieces of construction paper, the school’s hallways have gotten a lot more colorful.

Mosaics in the past have featured Mayor Thomas M. Menino, President Barack Obama, and the former Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown.

Chris Hall, the program’s teacher, hopes people start to notice what’s going on at the Lee.

“These are the people that make the laws and rules and I wanted to show them a different perspective of autism,” said Hall. “They [the students] need, help they need support and what we are doing at the Lee is creating an environment for them to be successful in.”

Students were busy Wednesday afternoon working on a gigantic mural of Governor Deval Patrick. Hall said the program is good for the students, allowing them to be creative, see success, and work in groups.

Omari Joseph Dickson, a second-grader at the Lee, and Douglas Toledo, a fourth-grader at the Lee, had their heads down as they concentrated on filling in the missing pieces.

The mosaics start off as images manipulated by Hall on a computer. The image is then projected and traced and broken down to individual two-foot squares. Students then fill in the patterns with the specific colors eventually creating the larger than life images.

“This whole project with the mosaics really allows students that nice opportunity to work on a small piece and have that individual success but then also see the grand scale of sometimes a 20-foot mosaic,” said Kimberly Curtis-Crowley, principal of the Lee School. “Autism is often misunderstood and this is a nice piece that allows our students to address that and it shows what they are capable of.”

With nine mosaics completed, featuring both celebrities such as Oprah Winfrey and leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr., Hall said people have started to notice and hopefully President Obama will accept an invitation sent by the school asking him to come visit during Autism Awareness Month in April.

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