McMURRAY – Abbey Peyton, a fifth-grader at McMurray Elementary School in Peters Township School District, beamed as she pointed out the various individual features on a large mural painted by the students to honor “Officer Dave.”
Her twin brother, Michael Peyton, said he especially liked the depiction of the school he painted along with a symbol of the sun in the upper right portion of an 8-by-5-foot, brightly colored canvas mural.
The twins were among seven students to design and produce the mural for Peters Township police Officer Dave Stanton’s new office at the elementary school.
Stanton, the district’s resource officer for the past 24 years, teaches students from elementary to high school focusing on the DARE program – Drug Abuse Resistance Education.
To the students and staff, he is known simply as Officer Dave.
This is the first year he has had an office to call home at McMurray Elementary and after staring at the blank, white cinder-block walls in the long, narrow office at the end of a hall, Stanton asked if he could have some artwork to break the sameness.
A few months later, Stanton was pleasantly surprised by the students’ creation.
Kelly Borra, art teacher for the fourth, fifth and sixth grades, said the project began shortly after the start of the school year and all of the students who participated worked on the mural on their own time, normally during recess.
Borra and Pam Harrison, also an art teacher for the fourth, fifth and sixth grades, helped, but the main body of work was designed and completed by the students.
Shelly Belcher, district communications coordinator, said the students interviewed Stanton on what he wanted on the mural.
Michael said the students drew a picture of what Stanton would like and even added a few special touches, including a tree with M&M candies instead of leaves.
“They got everything I care about,” Stanton said as he viewed the mural prominently displayed in his office.
In addition to the M&M tree, there is a replica of the outside of the school, a hockey stick and puck, train tracks and a train with a pizza on the side and a lion – the DARE mascot – riding the train. In addition to the DARE program, Stanton has headed the afterschool (model) Train Club for the past 18 years.
Harrison said the students worked together and “grew through the process.”
“They were very responsible and independent while working on the mural,” she said.
Borra said the mural for Officer Dave was the first time the students had completed a major project that was not assigned through the art classes and all on their own time.
One of the most difficult parts of completing the mural was trying to match colors, particularly for the green grass, Michael said.
He visited the district’s website to find a picture of the outside of the elementary school just off East McMurray Road, then printed it out before drawing the building.
“'Cause I didn’t know what it looked like,” Michael said.
In addition to teaching about drugs and alcohol resistance to students in McMurray, Pleasant Valley and Bower Hill elementary schools, Stanton also conducts classes about driving safety and preventing alcohol and smoking to the students at the middle school.
“I was incredibly honored by this,” Stanton said as he looked at the mural. “The fact they would do this and give up their recess time, it was an honor. And the M&Ms, I talk about M&Ms, but I don’t share them.”
In the past 24 years, Stanton has taught thousands of students.
He’s now on his second generation of children, noting recently one of his current students brought in an original lion mascot found in the basement that belonged to the mother, a former student of Stanton.
With retirement in the somewhat-near future, Stanton said he would like to take the mural home with him.
“They gave it to him,” Belcher said.
As he again looked at the colorful mural, Stanton said, “The more you look at it, the more you see. When they gave it to me, they said they look at me as a role model. That means a lot to me.”