Kelly Elementary unveils mural made with the Nikhil Badlani Foundation

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WEST ORANGE, NJ — The Nikhil Badlani Foundation unveiled another piece of traffic safety–related art on June 22, this time in the front hallway of Kelly Elementary School. To make the collage that illustrates various traffic safety issues, Kelly art teacher Nicole Siebert worked with students to draw and decorate the mural after the NBF’s youth advisory board talked to students about traffic and pedestrian safety this year.

“We mostly focused on bus and pedestrian safety, since these are elementary school kids,” YAB President Anay Badlani said in an interview at the event. “We wanted them to take the lessons they learned there and show that on the collage.”

The NBF was founded by Sangeeta and Sunil Badlani to promote roadway safety and music education after their 11-year-old son, Nikhil Badlani, was killed when a driver ran a stop sign and hit his family’s car. The organization has worked with communities and schools to encourage traffic, bus and pedestrian safety in a number of ways, including advocating for traffic legislation, fundraising and art projects such as the one at Kelly.

“We worked on sketches of the things they learned and then put them together,” Siebert said in an interview with the Chronicle at the event. “Then we added tissue paper over it to make the collage, and they didn’t understand why they were covering it up. I had to tell them to wait and see.”

The YAB worked with fourth- and fifth-graders for the most part, but second- and third-graders also contributed to the mural. Cindy Klein, a local artist who works with the NBF on art projects in area schools, helped finish the mural and get it ready to display.

“We want to keep it fun and interactive, even though it’s a serious topic,” Klein said in an interview with the Chronicle at the event. “Then they have something they can point to and say, ‘I did that.’”

Principal Joel Castillo welcomed the opportunity to place the mural in the school. It’s in the front hallway just past the entrance and will be there permanently.

“It allows them to bring the words we tell them about traffic safety to life,” he said in an interview with the Chronicle at the event. “They can see it here every day. It becomes tangible.”

According to Castillo, about 20 percent of Kelly students walk to and from school every day; the rest are driven or take the bus. All of those transportation methods are depicted in the mural and were emphasized when the YAB visited the school, so each student could learn the information that was most relevant to their life.

“We have the full spectrum, which is reflected here,” Castillo said. “It’s Kelly brought to life. We appreciated the partnership with the Nikhil Badlani Foundation; that’ll continue for years. This message isn’t something that expires. It has to be in their minds every day.”

Photos by Amanda Valentovic