By Molly Snyder Senior Writer Published Jun 09, 2021 at 12:01 PM

It’s a longstanding tradition at Tosa East High School for the graduating students to give a parting “senior gift” to the school. This year, a handful of students and faculty – with the help of parents, student volunteers and a professional artist – created a Unity Garden in the courtyard located in the center of the building.

The group raised almost $6,000 through donations and a grant from the Education Foundation of Wauwatosa (EFW). Thus they were able to commission muralist Christina Scheppmann Thomas to help with the project.  Thomas also donated extra time and resources to the project.

The mission of the mural was to create a garden of painted flowers seemingly growing from the soil and up the school walls. The bright, colorful palette is also a subtle nod to Tosa East’s school colors: red and white.

“The students had an inspired vision to transform the under-utilized space into a serene, joyful environment that could be enjoyed by all of Tosa East’s future students and faculty,” says Thomas.

The cheerful project was inspired by the darkness of COVID-19 and the school’s mandatory shutdown. During that time, the seniors lost a lot of school-related academic and social opportunities and therefor sometimes felt devoid of connections.

“The Unity Garden is meant to be a space where students can spend time together and find a little corner of peace, inspiration and cheer in their day,” says Thomas.

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A portion of the installation includes a “signature wall” where students signed the bricks on their last day of school. Two students from the class of 2021 passed away a few years ago and Thomas painted blue butterflies on the signature wall to honor them.

The driving forces behind the project are Tosa East seniors Michela Miller, Elizabeth Cady, Margaret Kasdorf and Sienna Daniels. Participating faculty includes Assistant Principal, Jordan Stein, and teacher, Ricki Tierney. 

“I imagine the garden will be added to by more senior classes to come and perhaps more walls will be filled with more artwork, seeing as there is plenty of wall space still left in the courtyard,” says Thomas.

Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.

Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.