Scenes from a school

Stu­dents at North­east High were eager to cre­ate a mur­al in trib­ute to their school. The chal­lenge was an­swer­ing a ba­sic ques­tion: What should the im­ages be?

A couple months ago, the stu­dents in Har­mony Thompson’s art class were kick­ing around ideas for a mur­al for one of North­east High School’s cor­ridors.

The im­ages had to be eas­ily as­so­ci­ated with the school. A Vik­ing, North­east’s mas­cot, was a must. The teens also de­cided they wanted ren­der­ings of a gradu­ate, mu­si­cians, a foot­ball trophy, ath­letes — and a chick­en.

There had to be a chick­en, but more about the poultry later.

Thompson said more than 70 stu­dents worked on the mur­al, which was ded­ic­ated last week in a cor­ridor near the school’s large gym.

Sev­er­al stu­dents ex­plained that the col­lab­or­at­ive ef­fort was a lot of work. The paint­ing and tile-set­ting took more than a month to com­plete. But it was fun, too, said seni­or Car­men Lu, 18, who painted foot­ball play­ers.

Some­times it was a little messy.

Ju­ni­or Di­or Green-Lorick, 17, helped to ap­ply the grout for the mur­al’s tile ele­ments. But not all of the grout made it to the wall. As Green-Lorick ex­plains, “It was fly­ing.”

Brandon Lur­oe, an­oth­er 17-year-old ju­ni­or, painted out­lines, and he re­called how some stu­dents seemed sur­prised that they were get­ting paint on them­selves as they worked. Becky Zheng, a 16-year-old ju­ni­or, got a chuckle as stu­dents wiped their faces but wer­en’t aware of the paint smears left be­hind. 

Ju­ni­or Linda Car­dona, 18, noted that she — ac­ci­dent­ally — painted her shoes.

The stu­dents were guided by pro­fes­sion­al artist Karla Siegel, and the pro­ject got some money from the Arts Fu­tures Pro­gram, which is fun­ded by the Phil­adelphia Mu­seum of Art and the Delphi Found­a­tion, a phil­an­throp­ic or­gan­iz­a­tion that sup­ports edu­ca­tion­al pro­jects.

Thompson, who has been teach­ing at North­east for two years, ex­plained that she wanted to cre­ate a mur­al but knew it wasn’t a pro­ject she could do alone. The grant money and Siegel’s help made it pos­sible.

Siegel brain­stormed with the young artists to come up with ideas drawn from North­east High’s his­tory and iden­tity. Some of the im­ages they de­cided to use were from old year­books. For ex­ample, there is a build­ing de­pic­ted on the mur­al’s left; that’s North­east’s ori­gin­al build­ing in North Phil­adelphia.

Oth­er con­cepts for the mur­al came from the school’s tra­di­tions. The Vik­ing had to be there. And on the right side of the mur­al is the im­age of the “Wooden Horse Trophy,” which goes to the vic­tor of the an­nu­al Thanks­giv­ing foot­ball game between North­east and rival Cent­ral High School. Else­where on the mur­al are de­pic­tions of foot­ball play­ers, a soft­ball play­er and a band mem­ber, among  oth­er il­lus­tra­tions.

As she stood by the mur­al near the school’s back en­trance, Thompson offered en­light­en­ing de­tails of the im­ages while ex­plain­ing how Siegel “took all the stu­dents’ ideas and put them in­to this or­der.”

So, why a chick­en?

Any­one who was at North­east High School in early 2008 knows why, and you can be sure that the kids who came later learned about the le­gend of this fowl epis­ode. 

In mid-Feb­ru­ary 2008, when some of the kids in Thompson’s class were fresh­men, four people dressed in dark and hooded cloth­ing slipped in­to the school after hours and re­leased 85 chick­ens in the cor­ridors.

It was a messy prank, and an ex­pens­ive one. The school had to be closed for a day so the halls could be cleaned and dis­in­fec­ted. The roam­ing chick­ens were roun­ded up and taken to the Fox Chase Farm. 

And even if you don’t think it was at all funny, you would have to ad­mit that the in­cid­ent would forever be a mys­ter­i­ous part of the school’s lore. After all, stor­ies about North­east High’s feath­ery in­truders went in­ter­na­tion­al. Search un­der “chick­en prank” and “North­east High School” and you can still see a snip­pet of the school sur­veil­lance video on You­Tube.

No one was charged with re­leas­ing the birds in­to the school, said as­sist­ant prin­cip­al Rob Caroselli. Per­haps the case will re­main un­solved.

But it’s great stuff for a mur­al. ••

Re­port­er John Loftus can be reached at 215-354-3110 or

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