SJSU Artist Adds Color to Pediatric Clinic and Promotes Learning

Renae McCollum, a master’s student in interdisciplinary studies with an emphasis in art and education, spent a week volunteering with a brush in hand at Valley Health Center Bascom, a primary care clinic of Santa Clara Valley Medical Center: Hospitals and Clinics. She collaborated with Chair of Pediatrics, Christina Sheridan, and Ren Bruguera, a research assistant with Stanford’s Pediatric Advocacy Program, to create a mural that promotes literacy at the health clinic that serves many low-income families in San Jose.

“Children of lower income families face disadvantages in access to education even before entering kindergarten,” said Bruguera. “While many can’t attend preschool, most regularly attend their pediatric clinic. Through this mural project, we hope to turn the Bascom Clinic into a School Readiness Friendly Clinic to provide opportunities for families to engage in their children’s learning as early as possible – from the moment they step foot in the clinic.”

Renae McCollum started with a sketch for her mural project at Valley Health Center Bascom, a primary care clinic of Santa Clara Valley Medical Center: Hospitals and Clinics.

Renae McCollum started with a sketch for her mural project at Valley Health Center Bascom, a primary care clinic of Santa Clara Valley Medical Center: Hospitals and Clinics.

The under-the-sea theme promotes school readiness through numbers, words in Spanish and English and a call to "dive into a book."

The under-the-sea theme promotes school readiness through numbers, words in Spanish and English and a call to “dive into a book.”

McCollum learned about the project from a professor who shared the call for a muralist to work with the clinic. After conversations with Bruguera about the general vision for the mural to be interactive and educational, she submitted a preliminary sketch to the clinic.  Dr. Sheridan, meanwhile, was already making strides to brighten up the walls with paint and an under-the-sea theme for the medical clinic. McCollum began designing an underwater scene in late December and early January that included bright colors, sea creatures, numbers and a shout out to “Dive into a Book!”

Starting on February 9, she spent about 43 hours total in one week transforming a bare white wall of one of the waiting rooms into a vivid 10’ x 22’ mural. The underwater scene includes groups of sea creatures to promote counting, both in Spanish and English, and a cave where a young boy in snorkeling gear sits reading next to a treasure chest of books.  While patients wait for appointments, children and parents will be able to engage with the numbers and words on the mural that promote school readiness.

For McCollum, the artwork is also about school readiness—preparing for possible future classes she might teach.

“I am using this project to fuel independent research and create curriculum to teach muralism and public art,” she said.

Her own background in art includes taking classes, painting and drawing on her own, and an internship at a nonprofit that advocated for murals.

“I learned a lot of best practices from them,” she said about community-based art organization SPARC, who coincidently was behind the Cesar Chavez arch on San Jose State’s campus.

McCollum, initially enrolled at SJSU for a teaching credential and decided to pursue a master’s in art education. When she realized that particular degree did not exist, she worked with faculty to develop her own curriculum for a master’s in interdisciplinary studies that combined both areas of interest. Upon graduating this spring, she hopes to land a job that allows her to teach art in a California public school.

The mural project is the latest in a series of similar projects that were completed working with other artists at the Fair Oaks Clinic in Redwood City and the Mayview Community Health Center in Palo Alto, which were recently highlighted in an article in the American Journal of Public Health.

“We hope our collaboration between SJSU, Stanford, and Valley Medical Center will address disparities in access to early education faced by families in the South Bay,” Bruguera said. “We also hope to inspire similar collaborations in the future to support families throughout other parts of the Bay Area.”

For more photos and information about McCollum’s mural process, visit her blog.