Jose de Diego Middle School Envelopes Students in Art

Students, faculty and visitors are enveloped in art at Jose de Diego Middle School. The walls are canvases for 81 murals, fitting for a school located in the artsy Wynwood area.

"I wish I had this when I was a student," said Principal April Thompson-Williams.

The school immerses students in creativity, expression and vision. It's all around them.

"Every day they cannot avoid the artwork. So walking to school, they're gonna see art work, walking into school, they see it everywhere," said art teacher Violeta Caloor.

She teaches in the school's magnet for visual arts. Students in the program get mentorship from professional artists, giving them a chance to learn what it takes to make it in the real world of art. They even get to help the artists create their murals.

"As an art student, can you say you've had this kind of exposure or this kind of experience?" asked Thompson-Williams.

Caloor said the exposure to professional artists on a regular basis is something most colleges don't even offer.

"Hopefully this has an imprint on them where they continue this into the future as a career," Caloor said.

Jose de Diego has much more than art to offer its students. The school has a magnet program in engineering, which prepares kids for the most advanced high school courses. It's a feeder program for Booker T. Washington High's engineering magnet.

"Students learn not only how to build physically, you know, touching things, building things, they also learn how to do computer science. So we build apps, we do programming in python. They're learning some very interesting coding languages," said program director Cyd Heyliger-Browne.

She's a role model for the many girls in the program, bucking the trend of girls shying away from STEM classes nationwide.

"One of the girls actually told me she was born to do this," Heyliger-Browne said.

Meanwhile, another group of science students is building a complex of fruit and vegetable gardens at the school, proving that art and agriculture just may be two great tastes that go great together. Real farmers are guiding the project, a growing public-private partnership to feed the fertile minds of middle school students.

Jose de Diego also has a thriving music program, which includes a concert band, chorus and a brand-new dance team.

If you're interested in seeing the murals, some can be viewed from Northwest 5th Avenue. To see the artwork gracing the interior halls of the school, you can make an appointment by calling the principal's office. It's an art gem, hiding in plain sight.

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